Parenthood is full of “shoulds.” From that first moment you bring your baby home from the hospital, people will tell you: you should feel happy, content, elated and in love. The truth is many of us struggle with feelings of anxiety, depression, tearfulness and emotional sensitivity during the immediate postpartum period. Is this normal? Yes! Is there a way to support yourself nutritionally during this time? Yes, there is. Adjusting foods in your diet can lessen the potential impact on your mood and well-being. But first, let me provide a little more information.
Feeling a little disconnected from your bundle of joy, like you are especially emotional, frustrated, anxious or depressed, can be a typical postpartum experience when it happens for a short time immediately following the birth of your child. This is called the baby blues. I, like many mothers, experienced this too.
The baby blues are short in duration and are most likely caused by hormonal shifts that happen naturally as your body resets after pregnancy and delivery. If you continue to feel depressed, detached, anxious, tearful, unstable and your sleep is disrupted (even when baby lets you sleep), it is important that you speak to a doctor. You may be experiencing postpartum depression and this requires the care and attention of a medical professional. Some women may experience postpartum psychosis, which is a severe and urgent medical condition that can include hallucinations and a disconnect with reality.
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of the baby blues; what you eat is so important to your overall health. Here are some things that helped me manage my own case of the baby blues and where some of the research is currently lying.
Get plenty of rest. Sleep when baby does and ask others to help take over baby care so you can catch up on shut eye. It’s a tough one to actually do, but if you can manage it a few times a week, it helps. Sleep is key in re-establishing wellness.
Eat well and eat often. Especially if you are breastfeeding as your nutritional stores can be low and in need of replenishing. Protein-rich meals and snacks keep your blood sugar, energy and mood stable, as will eating every 2-3 hours to avoid hunger. Avoid sugar (in all its forms although, it seems like such a staple), which can cause your blood sugar to spike and then dramatically fall. Stable blood sugar is the key to a stable mood, energy and focus. You know that high you experience after noshing on a chocolate bar? It is always followed by a dip as you come off of that initial rush – proof that our mood is absolutely affected by what we eat!
Eat fish and take a fish oil supplement. More and more research is uncovering an important link between postpartum maternal wellness and the benefits of eating fish and taking a fish oil supplement during pregnancy and after delivery. It is known that a woman’s store of Omega-3 fatty acid is used in the development of the fetus’s eye and brain. If a woman has an inadequate supply of essential fatty acids, she can be left depleted. It is possible that postpartum depression is caused by insufficient supplies of fatty acid in a woman’s brain. One study showed that a good quality fish oil supplement reduces the symptoms of postpartum depression. And more and more research is suggesting that fish oil in pregnancy might be a way to reduce a woman’s likelihood of suffering from the baby blues or postpartum depression. I recommend that women take a good quality fish oil during pregnancy and in the first year postpartum. A dose of 800-1200 mg of DHA daily would be beneficial.
The important thing is recognizing that you’re not in this alone and there are things you can and should do to care for yourself. Minimize outside demands, including what may be a strong desire to fit back into your pre-pregnancy jeans. Instead, focus on getting as much sleep as you can and making your body strong with good food and nutrition. See a medical doctor right away if your anxiety or depression deepens or persists beyond a few days or if you have thoughts of harm to yourself or someone else.