Postpartum depression (PPD) is a condition where the new mom experiences some form of depression after childbirth. It must not be mistaken with the so called “baby blues,” which usually occur during the first weeks after giving birth and are the result of the changes that come with having a new baby at home. Fifty to 80 percent of women may experience the baby blues with mood swings that can go from happiness to sadness in the span of a few hours. (1) Some women may feel stressed and that can lead to irritability and anxiety. The symptoms are transient and treatment is supportive.
Ten to 15 percent of women experience major postpartum depression that can occur anytime during the first year. These patients often need medical treatment. As with many diseases, prevention is the best way to deal with PPD.
Science has not yet discovered a single cause for PPD. Studies show that a drop in hormones may be involved. (2) While every patient has a drop in hormones after giving birth, some have a special vulnerability to it. This same susceptibility occurs with patients who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and this could explain why PPD is more common in patients who have suffered from PMS in their past.
Other suggested causes are genetics (a family history of PPD) and increased levels of homocysteine—some studies showed high levels of this substance in patients with PPD. (3) Homocysteine is an amino acid that has been tied to inflammation and cell damage, as well as major risk of cardiovascular disease.
Even though there’s not one single cause for PPD, many risk factors have been identified including a history of depression prior to or during pregnancy, lack of support from partners or family, fear or doubts regarding the new role as mother, unhealthy diet, career changes, smoking or drinking, stressful jobs, and a history of PMS. Many women have a combination of risk factors; few have no risk factors. The most common risk factor is the previous history of depression.
The most important way to prevent PPD is with awareness. Know your risk factors and inform your doctor, especially if you experienced any mood changes prior to pregnancy or during pregnancy. Healthy habits can also reduce the risk of developing PPD. Here are seven healthy habits you should adopt now.
Increase Your Intake of the B-Complex VitaminsVitamins B6, B12, and folic acid help the body metabolize homocysteine, reducing the levels in your blood. Vitamin B6 is found in whole grains, eggs, meat, fruits, veggies, legumes, and dairy products. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products so vegetarians should consider taking a supplement. Folic acid can be found in all green leafy veggies.
Eat a Healthy, Balanced DietAlthough animal products are a great source of the B-complex vitamins, homocysteine levels are highest in people who consume a lot of animal protein and no fruits and veggies. Balance is the key.
ExerciseDuring pregnancy and the postpartum period, it’s important to exercise. This increases serotonin blood levels, which can help you decrease anxiety and feel better emotionally. Try walking, swimming, or yoga. Remember that it’s more about moving and feeling good than pushing yourself and burning calories.
Get Adequate Rest and SleepThis may soundimpossible to do with a newborn at home, but adequate sleep can make a big difference when it comes to preventing PPD. Try to rest when you baby sleeps. Don’t hesitate to ask friends or family to give you a hand—this will help you avoid getting to the point where you’re exhausted or overwhelmed.
Drink Plenty of WaterThere’s a connection between dehydration and anxiety or lack of energy. Moms who breastfeed are at high risk for dehydration, so be aware of the amount of water that you’re drinking.
Reduce StressTry to incorporate stress-reducing practices into your daily life, or continue them after birth if you already practice them. Meditation and breathing techniques can help you manage stress and face your new routine in a more peaceful way. Even a few minutes of meditation twice a day, or taking time to breathe deeply and consciously, can make a huge difference.
Speak UpFeeling sad during or after pregnancy is not something to be ashamed of—it’s normal to feel anxious. Don’t hide your feelings. Instead seek support to help you confront your fears.
Don’t Feel GuiltyGuilt is very common among women with PPD, because having a baby is supposed to make you feel happy and fulfilled, but instead you’re feeling sad and depressed. Guilt is a very negative and harmful emotion and generates a lot of doubt about your new role as a mom. Know that you didn’t choose to have PPD. It’s not your fault.
Self-care is not selfish. Your baby needs a healthy happy mom. If you’re feeling blue, don’t be so hard on yourself. Talk about it and be open to help. Remember, it’s not about being a perfect parent, but a more centered and relaxed one.
If you’re experiencing any kind of postpartum emotional distress, take care of yourself and ask for help and support from your doctor, partner, family, and friends. If you’re pregnant and are feeling depressed or have any of the risk factors, take action and start practicing these healthy habits now to help lower your risk.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
- Williams Obstetrics, 24 th Edition. Copyright 2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Pages 1204-1212
1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
1. National Institute of Health
1. American Academy of Family Physicians
2. Williams Obstetrics, 24 th Edition. Copyright 2014 by McGraw- Hill Education, Pages 1204-1212
2. Mayo Clinic
2. National Institute of Health
- Megan Galbally,Martien Snellen,Andrew Lewi.Copyright Springer-Verlag 2014. Pages 203-206