How to Prevent or Ease Postpartum Depression Naturally

There are a lot of nods to postpartum depression and anxiety out there, and not a lot of substantial exploration of the reasons why so, so many parents experience it. We’re going to explore that question, set the record straight about what "kind" of parents experience it, and offer 9 natural, holistic ways to prevent and address postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression Rates For Gestational and Adoptive Parents Are The Same

Between 10-20% of postpartum parents experience depression and a whopping 70-80% of parents report “baby blues.” Baby blues refers to feeling sad or "down" during the first 2 weeks postpartum. After that, and with more intensive symptoms, you may be entering postpartum depression territory.

Rates of postpartum depression for gestational and adoptive parents are just about the same. Some experts estimate that the actual rate of postpartum depression (of which postpartum anxiety is a type), is more like 40% of postpartum parents. Another study suggested that lesbian moms (and it's safe to extend that to all LGBTQIA-2+ parents) may experience higher rates of postpartum depression because of the detrimental impacts of heteronormativity in daily life.

Why Are So Many Parents Depressed Postpartum?

I’m going to be relatively brief here, because most chances are that if you’re reading this, you probably want some solutions. We’ll get there soon.

Particularly in Queer/Trans/Non-binary communities, we tend to have more complicated or estranged relationships with our families of origin. For many of us, family support just isn’t there. And if many of your friends are straight, they may not consider this, and therefore don't step-up in the way that you might need them to postpartum. As a result, you’re not eating nourishing foods, sleeping enough, or getting practical and emotional support because you can’t do it all yourself! No one can. And no one should be expected to. And... it’s hard to ask for help.

On top of this, sensitive, gender-affirming (postpartum) care is in such scarcity. When going to a doctor can be a triggering or traumatic event, of course you would avoid seeking “care” when you’re already feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious, numb, or overwhelmed.

Whereas in many countries, there are intact cultures of postpartum care and/or state-level support for postpartum recovery like pelvic floor physical therapy and paid parental leave, in the U.S., you’re privileged if you get even a fraction of your pay for a few weeks. The system is not set up to hold postpartum parents. So, we’re asked to do too much, too soon, and get exhausted and depleted. Our needs are not honored -- the enormity of this task is underacknowledged. This is not your fault.

Finally, for gestational parents, there is a sudden, hormonal change that happens right after birth which can significantly impact mood. 

Addressing Postpartum Depression Holistically / Natural Postpartum Solutions

In Chinese medicine, we don’t address the same symptoms in the same way for everyone. First, we identify the root cause, and then we make a plan. I’m going to share with you some strategies that I use with all of my clients, regardless of their root cause. And if any of these things don’t feel doable for you, ask a partner, friend, or family member to help or to do them for you. You can book a 1:1 Integrative Postpartum session before or after welcoming your baby to create a personalized plan.

1) Identify if you need immediate medical attention.

Are you unable to eat or sleep?
Are you thinking of harming yourself or your baby?
Do you have a plan to harm yourselves, your baby, or others?
Are you hearing or seeing things?
Are you deeply suspicious of other people and feel you can’t trust anyone with your baby?

If the answer to any of these questions are “yes”, call your healthcare provider or 911.

2) Ask for help. No really.

Match-up 5-10 people you know with weekly tasks that would give you more access to nourishing meals and more time to sleep or rest. (Don’t forget to ask for help with this if it feels like too much to coordinate.) 

If you’re awaiting your baby’s arrival, this is a great nesting activity. And studies show that having more supportive people in your life during pregnancy lowers your chances of postpartum depression.

Things that your friends and neighbors could do, include things like:

  • Making nutrient-dense meals, 
  • grocery shopping, 
  • walking the dog, 
  • watching your other kid(s) while outside and masked-up, 
  • making nutrient-dense (breast/chestfeeding-friendly) snacks, 
  • getting that appointment with the ___ you’ve been trying to make forever, 
  • changing the kitty litter, 
  • Helping you find a therapist / lactation consultant and making the appointment for you,
  • Picking up your laundry, doing it at their house, and dropping it off to your doorstep, folded,
  • fundraising for a meal or laundry service, or 
  • even organizing a “meal train” on your behalf

Here’s some sample text language you could use to ask for help:
Hi there, I’m reaching out for support (on behalf of _____). With all that needs to get done around the house, I’m/(they are) not sleeping enough or eating well and I’m/(they are) feeling the fall-out. Would you consider doing x, y, or z for the next few weeks? It would be such a load-off. Thanks for considering and no hard feelings if it’s not possible for you. :)

3) Find a psychotherapist.

Studies have shown that psychotherapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can both prevent and treat postpartum anxiety and depression, and is more effective or equally as effective as antidepressants.

Psychotherapy is particularly helpful in preventing postpartum depression for those with a history of depression and anxiety, when started during pregnancy.

Accessing therapy is not possible for everyone. Contact your local LGBT Center or community mental health center for sliding scale or more affordable options. You may also inquire about sliding scale rates for a therapist you like -- many don’t advertise sliding scale but may offer it. Group therapy has also been shown to be effective for postpartum depression and is more affordable.

4) Move your body (on the regular).

6-8 weeks postpartum, and with the ok from your healthcare provider, you can start gently experimenting with exercise.

It is very easy to overdo it postpartum, so start with a 5-7 minute walk outside. If you’re navigating stairs, bring a buddy, as getting tired postpartum can happen quicker than you may think. Or have a headphones dance party at-home!

The key message here is this: listen and respond gently to how your body feels and don’t push. Only add time or up the pace of your walk or dancing if you can answer “yes” to the following questions: 

“Do I feel energized or the same as before I took my walk/dance yesterday?” 

“Am I pain-free?” 

“Is my birth site feeling the same or better than it did before my last walk?”

As you move towards the end of the 4th trimester (the first 12 weeks after your baby comes), you can explore more vigorous forms of movement. Some body-positive/neutral exercise options that tend to be more gender inclusive (sorry, I can’t guarantee this, I wish we didn’t even have to vet classes this way…), include:
https://www.fatkiddanceparty.com/
https://www.joyn.co/ 
https://nonnormativebodyclub.com/home-workout-friends Nonnormative Body Club curates a list of “anti-oppressive virtual fitness resources created by People of Color, trans, fat, and disabled trainers.

5) Book in for acu-phototherapy.

Acu-phototherapy utilizes patches on acupuncture points so you can benefit from Chinese medicine at home. No need for a babysitter. All you need is your smartphone or computer and 30 minutes to yourself.

6) Take a probiotic with Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Postpartum parents who took probiotics with Lactobacillus rhamnosus during pregnancy (starting at 14-16 weeks) and continued for 6 months postpartum have shown significantly lower postpartum anxiety and depression rates than the control group.

7) Try to get as much sleep as possible.

Studies show a correlation between sleep-deprivation and depression and anxiety rates. This is a tall order, postpartum. Have someone help you to do #s 2, 3, and 4, and getting more sleep will be easier.

8) Try herbal medicine.

Talk to your healthcare provider about:

  • Lemonbalm
  • Maca
  • St. John’s wort
  • Nepeta (Catnip - yes the one your kitty loves)
  • Eleutherococcus senticocus
  • Rhodiola
  • Motherwort
  • Leonurus cardiaca
  • Chamomile
  • Tulsi / Holy Basil

Or book a 1:1 Integrative Postpartum session to find the right combination for you.

9) Nourish your blood.

In Chinese medicine, we understand that it takes a lot of blood to grow a baby and then a lot is lost in the birth process. Blood nourishes the mind. In order to have a calm, centered, uplifted mind, we need to eat food that nourishes it!

Try integrating blood-building foods into your day, such as:

  • goji berries 
  • black beans (soaked overnight)
  • stewed beef
  • seaweed
  • roasted beets
  • spirulina and/or chlorella

Postpartum depression is such a common experience for postpartum parents, regardless of how your baby came into your life. Please share this article with folks who are supporting you, to help with implementing the things that resonate with you.

And we’re always here for you at Spectrum Chinese Medicine. Sending care your way.

You don't need to go at it alone.

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