Functional Medicine Nutritionist, specializing in preconception and prenatal care
Postpartum Depression (PPD) Part I: Contributing Factors
It’s estimated that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression(PPD). What’s the difference between PPD and the ‘normal’ fatigue and brain fog experienced by new moms? PPD usually lasts longer and is more debilitating than the common fatigue of a new mom. PPD can hit immediately after giving birth to 12 months out. And PPD can change its stripes: first appearing as anxiety and/or feeling overwhelmed then moving into depression.
PPD is not new but there’s been a rise in the number of moms affected. When that happens, it’s always good to ask why. Here are five possible contributing factors for PPD:
Isolation and Lack of Support
Moms kind of get the boot once they give birth. They receive their 6-week check-up and then they’re supposedly good to go. Unfortunately, mom is too often not good to go. She feels isolated and overwhelmed. She feels inadequate and ashamed that she’s not able to feel joy caring for her new baby. These are all symptoms of PPD.
We often have a vision of being the perfect mom, capable of caring for our baby, ourself and our household. We expect to bond with our baby from the very first moment and expect to love breastfeeding. In reality, this is often not the case and we wonder what’s wrong with us!
In the U.S., women are expected to return to work within 6-12 weeks after giving birth and often receive no paid leave. Countries in Europe and Asia have paid maternity leave ranging from 16 weeks to 18 months.
At 12 weeks, mom is still trying to adapt to 5-7 hours of interrupted sleep, pumping or nursing every 3-4 hours. She is giving tons of attention to a new little person. That’s a lot to deal with, without adding working outside the home to the mix. It’s no surprise there’s been a rise in PPD.
Some women feel ready to go back to work and have tons of energy and that’s great! But even if you have a lot of support when you return to work, remember your body is still adapting. Be aware that returning too soon could cause a rebound of low hormones and moods, which can lead to PPD.
Once you deliver your baby and the placenta, your estrogen and progesterone levels take a deep dive. To compound things, your brain and ovaries haven’t been talking to each other for about 10 months. The significance of this is that both estrogen and progesterone affect your neurotransmitters.
Estrogen affects serotonin – think depression and sleep. Progesterone is your calming hormone that affects your GABA neurotransmitter – think anxiety. Stresscaused by feeling alone, inadequate, and exhausted, along with nutrient deficiencies, exacerbate the duration of lowered hormones levels. In turn, causing a much longer and deeper emotional roller coaster that can contribute to PPD.
Moms with PPD often have nutrient deficiencies due to what is lost during the birthing process compounded with lack of nutritious food. Often when we are tired, we tend to reach for something quick and often sweet or unhealthy. And we may not have family nearby who can prepare us nutritious meals.
The most common nutrient deficiencies related to PPD during this time are low iron and iron stores (ferritin), B-12, and folate. Low B-12 levels can be the underlying reason for brain fog and low energy. Folate along with B-12 is needed to make RBC (energy) and is also needed to make neurotransmitters. Low levels of neurotransmitters cause depression, anxiousness, and difficulty sleeping – all signs of PPD.
1 in 12 women worldwide suffers from an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s after giving birth. Hashimoto’s can occur even if you haven’t had any apparent thyroid issues prior to becoming pregnant. It’s a disease manageable through diet and lifestyle changes, detoxification, supplementation, and medication if needed.
Hypothyroidism and PPD are linked because thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism of all of your cells. If you don’t have enough of these hormones, it feels like you’ve been hit by a sledgehammer. You have no energy, are graced with dry skin and hair, and your milk production diminishes. Your body goes into hibernation mode and regardless of how much sleep you’re getting, you’re still exhausted. If you experience these symptoms, ask your doctor to be screened for hypothyroidism with blood work and to evaluate you for PPD.
In our next blog post, we will share steps you can take to prevent PPD.
If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression and extreme fatigue, you may have PPD. Call us today at 714-375-1110 and let us help you enjoy this time with your new baby. Don’t suffer from PPD in silence!