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Welcoming a baby into the family can be exciting, overwhelming, joyful and stressful all at the same time. But it can also bring along something unexpected but not uncommon: depression. In fact, it is estimated that one out of eight new mothers experience postpartum depression.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is postpartum depression?
- 2 How does breastfeeding relate to postpartum depression?
- 3 7 Practical Tips To Overcome Postpartum Depression While Breastfeeding
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a real, clinical form of depression that can develop in a woman immediately following the birth of a child. Unlike the “baby blues,” which are normal and tend to dissipate by the end of the second postpartum week, the symptoms of postpartum depression are more severe and longer-lasting.
In addition to general sadness, mood swings, unexplained crying, irritability and insomnia, you might experience an inability to bond with your baby. You might feel detached, withdrawn, or no longer interested in things that once excited you. Other symptoms include guilt, grief, restlessness, loss of appetite, or feelings of emptiness or worthlessness. In more severe cases it can result in an inability to care for your infant or dark, suicidal thoughts.
There’s not a singular cause for postpartum depression. It may be attributed to a dramatic drop in the production of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) after birth, or the emotional ups and downs that accompany the stress, sleepless nights, and exhaustion that is common in the period immediately following the birth of your child.
But another culprit might be flying a little under the radar….the inability to breastfeed.
How does breastfeeding relate to postpartum depression?
Recent evidence suggests that women who experience difficulty with breastfeeding may be at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Some postulate that breastfeeding may help protect against postpartum depression, but this can be challenging for new mothers who have negative experiences with the task.
Breastfeeding is meant to be an amazing bonding experience between a mother and her child. When a woman finds herself unable to breastfeed for whatever reason (little or no lactation, pain, or inability of the infant to properly latch), it can trigger feelings of depression, inadequacy or guilt.
In addition, a mother’s intention as to whether or not she planned to breastfeed plays a crucial role in the risk factor as to whether or not postpartum depression will develop.
“For mothers who were not depressed during pregnancy, the lowest risk of PPD was found among women who had planned to breastfeed, and who had actually breastfed their babies, while the highest risk was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and had not gone on to breastfeed.” – (SpringerLink study)
In this article, my colleague, Brooke Nally, shares 7 practical tips that you can implement to manage postpartum depression while breastfeeding.
7 Practical Tips To Overcome Postpartum Depression While Breastfeeding
1. Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Make sure to eat a variety of fruits, veggies, lean meats and proteins and whole grains, and make sure you’re getting three proper meals per day. When you’re breastfeeding you’re burning twice as many calories – a lot of your daily intake is going toward milk production so make sure to listen to your appetite.
Make sure to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by incorporating some fish once or twice a week. Adding in some lactogenic herbs such as alfalfa, anise seed, dandelion, turmeric, fennel or shatavari, which help combat depression and can also increase the production of breastmilk.
READ ALSO: 10 Herbs To Increase Breast Milk Supply
It isn’t always easy to get all the necessary nutrition, especially when you’re busy or exhausted. But self-care is important, and diet plays a huge role!
A healthy diet for new Moms includes a diet full of galactogogues. Galactagogues are substances that increase a nursing mothers milk supply, which Moms can get from
herbs, lactogenic foods, or lactogenic supplements. The powerful compounds in galactogogues mi
mic hormones which stimulate breast milk production, and on top of that — they provide your body with nutrients your body is craving to boost milk supply! Not only will galactagogues help you to produce more breastmilk, but this will result in boosting your confidence, while being provided high quality nutrients to make you feel healthier and happier.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re getting galactagogues in your daily diet, is to make ‘wellness’ shots — so you can get your galactogenic herbs in one easy dose! This specific wellness shot is not only full of galactogenic herbs, but they’re full of nutrients to help boost the immune system.
3. Get regular exercise – even a little.
Regular exercise boosts the production of mood-enhancing chemicals like seratonin and reduces the production of chemicals that make depression worse. Plus it might aid in the production of breastmilk. It doesn’t have to be a big gym-smashing session or sweaty cardio. Just get your body moving. It could be a walk around the block, 10 minutes of morning yoga or half an hour of housework. There are many ways to exercise!
Keep it consistent. If you’ve got a busy calendar, try to slot in a bit of movement, even just 2-3 times per week. Fifteen minutes of movement in the morning goes much farther than a 90 minute intense workout one time per week.
4. Take care of your mental health.
This is probably one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a new mother. Postpartum depression can zap all your will and zest for life. But incorporating a few mental wellness habits into your day may be immensely helpful.
- Deep breathing
- Find a quiet spot in your house where you feel comfortable. Close your eyes and tune in to the rhythm of your breath. Notice what it feels like. The sound, the sensations. The pace. Just notice.
- Start to deepen your breath, breathing all the way into the bottom of your belly. Feel your bottom and top lungs expand, and the breath filling up your abdomen from front to back. Breath in until you can’t take in any more air, and pause with a full belly for a moment. Release the breath after a few seconds, pushing all of the stale air out. Repeat 10 times, making each breath slow, deep, and consistent.
- The power of meditation dates back to the ancient sages and spiritual leaders of generations past. I can personally attest that a daily meditation practice can transform your entire mental state. Like exercise, it doesn’t have to be much. Even 5-10 minutes a day can yield immense results.
- If you’re new to meditation, I suggest finding a teacher who you trust or trying one of these simple techniques. My personal favorite is Nadi Shodhona, or alternate nostril breathing. It’s a simple but effective technique that works to balance out the two halves of our brain and restore a sense of calm and clarity.
5. Take time to connect.
Connection to others is extremely important. Spend time with your spouse, loved ones, friends, family, and of course – your baby. Connecting more with your baby, whether through breastfeeding or close physical contact, can help battle the symptoms of postpartum depression.
Talk about it! Don’t be afraid to express how you’re feeling. The people closest to you will support you. Stephanie Liu, cofounder of lifeofdrmom.com, said she “felt like she was an inadequate mother when [she] was not able to breastfeed, but was too ashamed to talk about it” (theconversation.com).
You are not alone. Millions of women suffer from some form of depression, whether mild or severe, following childbirth. Write it down, tell a friend, or find an online forum to discuss your feelings on.
6. And don’t forget to connect to yourself.
Self-care begins at home. Raising a newborn can be challenging at best and new moms often put their infants and family first at the expense of themselves. But we can’t take care of other people until we take care of ourselves.
Self-soothe. Take a bubble bath. Schedule a dinner date alone with yourself once a week if possible. Get a massage (or ask your partner for that well-deserved 10 minute foot massage). Listen to music, read a book or do whatever is it you need to do to get back to and feel like yourself. It’s so important. And your family (and newborn!) will thank you for it.
7. Allow yourself to feel the feels.
Sometimes, we can’t do anything about our depression but just allow ourselves to feel it and ride it out. And that’s okay! Acknowledge that it’s there. Acceptance is the first step to transformation. Once we can accept exactly where we are, everything becomes easier. It’s like a giant weight being lifted off our shoulders. Denying that we feel something, especially something negative, only adds another layer of resistance on top of the pain we’re already feeling.
Let go. Feel it all. Express, move, paint, write, do whatever you need to do to move through it. Maybe you just need to sit and be sad. Maybe you need to scream, or cry, or shout. Everything passes. Time heals all. Just trust in the process, trust yourself, because nothing lasts forever.
The moment we can fully, fully accept where we’re at, and love ourselves despite it all, is the moment that it begins to dissipate.
All children deserve to have a healthy, happy mom. And all moms deserve to enjoy the beautiful experience of raising a newborn. Postpartum depression can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be, with the right support. If you feel depressed after having a baby, lean on a loved one. Seek help or call your doctor. It may make all the difference in the world.
Thank you, Brooke, for sharing some practical tips in managing postpartum depression. I hope these tips are useful for all breastfeeding moms out there, especially those facing difficulty in their journey.