The period surrounding the birth of a child is a joy, but for many families, it can also be a time of concern. Changing roles and physical changes can leave both mothers and fathers feeling irritable, depressed, or unable to cope.
Mood changes are the most common complications of pregnancy. Most new mothers will experience a disruption in their mood. In addition, it is estimated that 20 percent of pregnant women experience clinical depression.
Perinatal (occurring before and after birth) mood changes can fall within several distinct categories:
* Prenatal depression. Symptoms of depression interfere with the ability to perform life tasks such as working or caring for oneself or older children. This is a biochemical reaction to the increased demands for proper nutrition.
* Baby blues. Up to 80 percent of new mothers experience so-called baby blues within the first week of delivery. This condition is not a psychiatric disorder, and it passes within a few weeks. Mothers can become weepy, nervous, or dependent. Baby blues have been described as “normal crazy”—part of a reaction to rapid lifestyle and hormonal changes.
* Postpartum anxiety reactions. Postpartum anxiety is much more common than depression. Occurring any time during the first eighteen months, anxiety reactions can range from mild feelings of nervousness to panic attacks involving physical symptoms such as a racing heart, hot flashes, or sleep troubles. Emotional components may include feelings of loss of control, wanting to run away, extreme irritability or nervousness, or excessive worry. Postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder is an anxiety reaction that can occur due to past trauma or a negative birth experience.
* Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. Intrusive, recurrent thoughts or behaviors characterize this disorder. In new mothers, this can include extreme worry over the baby’s safety. Mothers may continually count or check things, hide or get rid of dangerous objects, or stay away from situations where they perceive threats. The mother may imagine harm coming to the baby—sometimes at her own hand. In the case of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, the mother is horrified at these thoughts, and so far, there has never been a report of actual harm taking place toward a baby. To the contrary, these mothers are typically overprotective.
* Postpartum depression. Depression can be experienced as a lack of energy, a loss of interest in life in general, or a lack of interest in the baby. New mothers can cry uncontrollably, lose or gain weight excessively, and lose the ability to concentrate or make simple decisions. Occurring any time in the first eighteen months postpartum, mothers may feel guilty or overwhelmed or fear that they are unworthy of their new role.
* Postpartum psychosis. Psychosis is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization. Five percent of new mothers experiencing psychosis commit suicide, and nearly as many commit infanticide. Women experiencing postpartum psychosis have lost touch with reality, and they should not be left to care for their children, even for a moment. These mothers may be profoundly confused and afraid, seeing things or hearing voices that are not there. This disorder is rare, occurring in only 1–2 percent of births.
What Are Risk Factors for Postpartum Mood Changes?
Any stressful situation during the perinatal period increases the incidence of mood reactions. Stress reduces the body’s ability to cope with drastic change. Typical stressors include the following:
* financial demands
* marital discord
* moving to a new home within several months of delivery
* previous emotional instability of either parent or their families
* changes in employment status or the lack of support of the new parents’ employers
* lack of social support
* the mother’s attitude toward motherhood
* thyroid imbalances
* multiple births
* real or perceived defect with the infant
* a traumatic birth experience
* some types of birth control, especially Depo Provera.
Biochemical Issues Affecting Mood
* Low B-complex vitamin levels. These are the so-called stress vitamins—they are crucial to proper brain function. Being under stress makes the body use more B vitamins and also leach more of them.
* Low levels of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. Many new mothers have found relief by supplementing these nutrients. The bioavailability of these minerals can be increased by adding vitamin D or spending time in the sunshine.
* Inadequate hormone production, especially progesterone. Typically, women who are more depressed, lethargic, and fatigued are low in estrogen, and women who are more irritable, anxious, and edgy are lower in progesterone.
* General toxicity in the body, especially of the colon. It is true that proper colon function is the basis for optimal health. An unhealthy colon may be unable to absorb adequate nutrients into the bloodstream; the brain may not have the tools needed to function properly.
* Low levels of healthy fats. The brain is made up of 60 percent fat. Fats are needed to encourage proper nerve function.
What Can Be Done to Treat or Prevent Mood Issues?
1.Protect the mother’s general health by ensuring adequate nutrition. Ideally, a woman should strive for optimal health before pregnancy. This way, the body is prepared for the physical demands of growing a fetus, and nutrient stores are not exhausted by the pregnancy itself. Today’s inferior food supply warrants supplementation of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and amino acids.
2.Seek guidance in choosing a safe, healthy internal body cleansing system. Although deep cellular cleanses are not appropriate during pregnancy and lactation, certain daily cleanses are excellent for promoting brain chemistry health. Mood issues can be a direct result of a yeast imbalance, heavy metal or chemical toxicity, or even an electromagnetic disruption. Go to http://www.PostpartumDepressionHelp.com to find an excellent cleansing and nutrition program for pregnancy and postpartum.
3.Call the Postpartum Depression Helpline staffed by trained volunteers at Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4PPD (http://www.postpartum.net).
4.Find time to sleep. This may be the hardest bit of advice to follow, but remember, prisoners of war are tortured by sleep deprivation!
6.Hire a doula. While an obstetrician or midwife is there for the baby, a doula is there for the mother and father. Doulas can work to ensure that the mother’s needs are met during delivery and are typically very valuable in addressing the various surprises of delivery. Postpartum doulas can be invaluable in the early months of parenthood.
7.Join a mother’s group. Many mothers feel isolated and unable to share in the wisdom of our society regarding how best to raise their babies. Increasing discussions of the rigors of motherhood can help women to adjust.
8.If seeking counseling, be sure that the therapist uses cognitive-behavioral therapy. Postpartum is not the time for intensive psychoanalysis.
9.Check hormone balance using a saliva test from a qualified alternative health care practitioner. Refrain from starting a birth control prescription until several months after mood symptoms have passed.
It is my hope that through this article, I have provided women and their families with the knowledge they need to confront—and, with proper nutrition, battle against—mood disorders during and after pregnancy. The transition to motherhood is the most fragile time in a woman’s life. Childbirth affects women emotionally, biochemically, financially, and socially. A pregnant woman is entering into the most important position of authority in the world: that of shaping the next generation. New mothers deserve all the support available to encourage them during this time. If a woman happens to experience a mood disorder, she is not alone, she is not to blame, and she will get better.
** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html
Cheryl Jazzar, MHR, is a volunteer counselor trained in the diagnosis and treatment of postpartum mood disorders. She is Postpartum Support International’s coordinator for the state of Oklahoma (http://www.postpartum.net). Her interests in holistic health care combined with experiences in supporting new mothers have led her to realize that most postpartum mood disturbances have a nutritional etiology. Mrs. Jazzar is a home schooling mother to two of her four children. Her role is to listen, support, value, and pamper women through their various life stages, especially in their transition to motherhood.