What Is Postpartum Depression?
The arrival of a new baby brings with it a number of changes. During the first few months after the birth, it’s common for new mothers to experience a low-grade feeling of sadness or letdown, called the Baby Blues. However for some women, the feeling of sadness is deeper and more serious, and is known as a mood disorder, called postpartum depression.
About one in seven women experience postpartum depression. The symptoms may begin as feelings of sadness, worry, anxiety, and insomnia, coupled with and aggravated by fatigue. Over time and if unacknowledged and untreated, those symptoms may become worse, and appear as anger, frequent crying, appetite changes, physical achiness, social withdrawal, and even thoughts of self-harm.
The cause of postpartum depression is a combination of factors, but hormonal changes are in the forefront. During pregnancy, higher levels of estrogen and progesterone account for feelings of well-being and what some describe as a pregnancy glow. After childbirth, however, your body is rebalancing its hormonal levels, which may translate into a sudden drop that can flatten your mood. This can be especially disappointing during a time when the expectation is that you’ll be soaking in the happiness of your new baby.
Hormonal changes are compounded by the exhausting reality of caring for your new baby. Lack of sleep, the physical demands of nursing, and non-stop diaper changes and midnight feedings are a further drain on your body that has previously been sapped by pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
How Can Postpartum Depression Be Treated?
In Chinese medicine, the source of postpartum depression is most frequently due to a condition aptly called a depletion. In most cases, energy (or Qi) and blood are deficient. Your energy is low from months of being pregnant and nourishing your baby in utero, labor and delivery, and the exhausting care of a newborn. Blood depletion, while not considered to be anemia, means that the nourishing quality of your blood is low from blood loss during childbirth—whether it’s through labor and delivery or surgery.
Many new mothers struggling with postpartum depression have found that acupuncture is an effective treatment option for them, and research is bearing this out. In a 2018 analysis of studies on treating postpartum depression with acupuncture, researchers found that women treated with acupuncture showed significant decreases in depression than women who had no acupuncture. Scientists have also found that in the brain, acupuncture increases the circulation of feel-good neurotransmitters and helps to regulate hormone levels.
Beyond acupuncture, your practitioner of Chinese medicine may also incorporate dietary therapy and in some cases, an herbal formula to help rebuild depleted stores of Qi and Blood. A multi-pronged approach is helpful because while you may begin to feel better quickly, it can take several months to restore your body to complete health. Acupuncture plus Chinese medicine’s other healing tools can offer a gentle, safe, and effective treatment option.
Whether you choose acupuncture or traditional medical treatment, the bottom line is that postpartum depression is very real and has physical underpinnings. It’s not all in your head, nor does it mean that you’re not up to handling motherhood. If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, it’s important to reach out for help. Often, it doesn’t take much to begin to feel better.