Preventing Perinatal Depression & Anxiety from a Naturopathic Approach
Written by Alana Mulhall (Clinical Naturopath at Mothers Mylk)
Everyone’s experience of pregnancy and the postpartum period will be significantly different. Not only are there physical changes to the body during this time there are also emotional, mental and hormonal changes occuring.
Recognizing the Signs: Postpartum Anxiety & Depression
It is safe to say that the combination of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation can all significantly impact a mothers mental health.
In addition to this, relationships, understanding and finding a new sense of self and daily rhythms will all be changing. Without the tools and skills on how to support health we can now begin to understand why 1 in 5 new mothers are diagnosed with perinatal anxiety or depression.
Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety & Depression
Just like pregnancy and postpartum, we know that each person's experience of perinatal anxiety or depression will look different. The frequency and type of symptoms and severity of symptoms will all look different from person to person. Some of the symptoms can include:
- Increased mood swings, or easily irritable
- Feeling like you’re in a state of panic
- Frequent worries about health or baby’s health
- Panic attacks
- Easily startled
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling anger or rage
- Feeling disconnected from your baby
- Feelings of helplessness and sad
- Finding it difficult to concentrate or poor memory
- Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby sleeps)
- Changes to appetite
Prevention: A Multifaceted Approach - Is it possible to prevent perinatal anxiety and depression?
These mental health conditions are impacted by a multitude of factors and if there are certain practices put into place, more support and more education for mothers then it would be possible in some cases to prevent the development or reduce the severity of these conditions. However, sometimes perinatal mental health conditions cannot be completely prevented.
It is important that we reduce the stigma around these conditions and allow mothers to understand that it is NOT their fault for the symptoms they might be experiencing.
A Missing Piece in Western Cultures
In modern western cultures, it is common for both the new mum and their physicians to predominantly focus on infant care in the postpartum period. Many women do not receive the attention postpartum that is needed surrounding their own health and how they are adapting to motherhood.
Reviving Supportive Traditions
Traditionally many cultures including Asian, Arab, Oceanian, Latin American, and Africa practised postpartum rituals and postpartum care through organised support, dietary practices, hygiene and warming practices, infant care and breastfeeding.
New mothers had longer term care and support for up to 8 weeks following the birth of their baby and the main role of the mother was to care for her baby and recover. All other tasks such as cooking, cleaning and work were left to other members of the family.
That sounds like a dream, right!? How many of us actually received that kind of support for 8 weeks post birth?
In modern western culture, many new mums are expected to “bounce back” and adapt to being a mother without any additional organised support. Many mothers are told that feeling overwhelmed and fatigued postpartum is completely normal but just because it is common, doesn’t mean it should be normalised.
Practical Tips for Mental Well-being
During pregnancy and postpartum, it is essential to understand what factors can increase the risk of developing these mental health conditions. Some of these can include, history of anxiety or depression, increased life stress, birth trauma or disappointment, relationship difficulties, history of trauma, limited social support.
If you are experiencing any contributing factors we encourage you to discuss these conditions with your health care provider and consider if a mental health plan is appropriate.
In addition to this, there are many practices that can significantly support and improve your mental health, some of these include:
- Learning about nourishing your body with wholefoods (our postpartum survival guide has this covered!)
- Understand the increased nutrient needs during pregnancy and postpartum
- Have pathology testing conducted to identify any underlying health conditions or nutrient deficiencies (read more on this here)
- Educate yourself on topics like postpartum depletion and matrescence (Preparing for the fourth trimester guide here)
- Get morning sunlight exposure each day for 10-20 minutes
- Organise support with family, friends or hired help where possible (we recommend creating a visitors “help list’ and sticking it on your fridge)
- Learn about self-compassion during early days (more tools from our psychologist here)
Resources & Support
If you are experiencing any symptoms that are persistent and impacting your quality of life we recommend checking out the below resources or speaking with your healthcare provider. There is no shame in struggling with managing the postpartum period and it is always best to get your symptoms checked out sooner rather than later.
Gidget Foundation: https://gidgetfoundation.org.au/
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia): https://www.panda.org.au/
Mothers Mylk Clinic: https://mothersmylk.co/pages/clinic (non-urgent support)
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