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Post-Partum Depression: How Love and Light Can Heal
On this rainy day, I’ve decided to tell a story I have never told before.
Although my personality is very smiley, and I have always been able to see the light in this dark world we live in, I once suffered with depression.
It was right after I had my first child. My husband, Scott, was working all the time so our family could survive, and I had worked so hard during my pregnancy to prepare for a natural home birth. Things were going good until our sweet son Noah finally arrived. It was supposed to be a time of pure bliss and, in part -- the snuggles, the coos, the bonding – it was. But there was something inside of me that just wasn't right. I was emotionally and physically drained from 14 hours of hard labor. Then, sleep deprivation started to kick in because of round-the-clock feedings and diaper changes and the fact that Noah couldn't tell the difference between night and day. I was breastfeeding, but the nipple pain hurt so bad I was in tears. I had also torn badly during delivery and suffered from severe hemorrhoids.
To say that becoming a new mother can be hard is an understatement and I am the type of person who hides pain very well! I am the oldest child and very strong willed. When my mind is made up I can accomplish anything. I mean, I did just have a home birth, right?
The fact is, as many as 1 and 5 new moms will suffer from severe depression or anxiety after giving birth, and a woman is significantly more likely to suffer from one of these conditions during her first year as a mother than at any other time in her life.1
There are many factors that can contribute towards postpartum depression. First, the hormonal roller coaster after giving birth is one that no one can prepare you for. The estrogen levels during pregnancy are approximately 100 times what they are during your period.2 After giving birth, estrogen levels decrease dramatically (especially within the first 24 hours). The levels drop even further if you are breast feeding and you may even experience hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Dr. Allison Hill, a board-certified OB/GYN in Los Angeles compares breast feeding hormones to that of a woman in menopause when she explains the hormonal shift after pregnancy to her patients.2
The levels of progesterone increase as well when you are pregnant and don’t actually return to normal until your normal menstrual cycle returns. You can expect your period to return about 6-8 weeks after birth if you are not breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding your period won’t return as quickly. For some women, they might not have their period the entire time they breast feed.
The hormone called prolactin increases up to 20 times more than pre-pregnancy levels and remains high until breastfeeding ends.2 This hormone helps the breast glands to produce milk for breastfeeding. Prolactin levels fluctuate during the day and are the highest at night and times of stress.
You may even notice that when your baby is crying, you will experience milk discharge or milk letdown. The letdown reflex is due to the oxytocin which helps you relax and helped with the pain during labor. The hormone is known as the “bonding hormone” and during the first weeks of lactation, is still being tailored to respond to the sensation of your baby nursing.2 Frequent nursing will fix this.
Today I am going to shed some light and give you some helpful advice that I learned from going to chiropractic school. I had amazing friends that were part of the No More Meds Club at my chiropractic school and I was able to overcome my depression without meds. Being around likeminded uplifting people was who I surrounded myself with. I loved my church family and loved being close to a park. Every day, I made myself walk and get some sunshine. Even though I was having crazy thoughts, I still had control of my mind. Writing has always been a healing tool for me. I kept a gratitude journal next to my bed and wrote only positive uplifting Scriptures or thoughts I had. I didn’t watch the news or surround myself with negative people because I knew they would drag me down.
So, what can you do while your body is trying to adjust its hormones after giving birth? A healthy body regulates hormones more efficiently. By working to replenish the nutritional losses that are a part of pregnancy, delivery and lactation as well as reducing the exposures to toxic elements that you have control over, you can reduce your risk of experiencing periods of postpartum depression. Reducing your exposure to the following chemicals is a big step toward optimizing your health and hormone regulations. I started eating healthier because -- let’s face it -- I was a college kid who’d been eating junk food. I knew when I was pregnant I needed to eat better. But after I had my son, I learned I needed extra healthy fats for my brain. Here’s some tips:
• Use only organic based whole foods when you can. Buy hormone free meats products where possible. If you can’t buy organic, wash your food well to rid the pesticides.
• Make sure you get enough of the good fats in your diet. Preferably more plant fats, such as avocados, almonds, flax-seed oil, pumpkin seeds and olive oil. No hydrogenated fats or oils are allowed.
• Avoid all pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in use around your home.
• Have a good reverse osmosis water filter for your source of water.
• Avoid plastic goods. Use glass or ceramics whenever possible to store food.
• Do not microwave food in plastic containers, and especially avoid the use of plastic wrap to cover food for microwaving.
• Don't use fabric softeners as it puts petrochemicals right on your skin.
• Use a simple laundry, dish detergent and home cleaners with less chemicals.
• Use organic soaps and toothpastes. Avoid fluoride.
• Avoid blue cohosh, vitex, saw palmetto berry, lavender, tea tree oil, licorice, hops, rhodiola rose root, black cohosh, dong quai, red clover blossom and motherwort leaf as they all increase levels of estrogen.
• Strictly avoid soy
The Physical Changes
Hormones aren’t always to blame, however. There is a lot of pressure on moms to “bounce back” after pregnancy and return to pre-pregnancy weight right away. Women are advised to gain an average of about 25 lbs. during pregnancy. This recommendation is based on the BMI (body mass index) of the woman at the time when she finds out she is pregnant. Overweight women are advised to not gain as much for the health of themselves and their infants. This hasn’t always been the guideline though. In the 1930’s excessive weight gain was seen as a possible sign of swelling or impending high blood pressure. In an effort to prevent this, it was recommended that weight gain should not exceed 15 pounds during pregnancy3. This was also considered good for “preservation of figure.” Well, I did not fall into that category. I gained 60 pounds when I pregnant! I couldn’t fit into anything. I felt ugly and huge.
Many women are unhappy with their post pregnancy body due to the presence of stretch marks, a belly bulge, wider hips, and breast changes. A TODAY Moms survey of 3,000 new moms found that almost two-thirds of women say they worry their partner doesn’t like their body 4. We live in a society of judgement and a culture that expects women to maintain their physique. My husband Scott never made me feel fat. He loved me no matter what, but I did not love myself. I had to learn how to love myself again. This took me years to understand. Good thing my husband did not give up on me! He just kept me smiling.
It is important for new moms who are feeling the pressure of returning to their postpartum bodies to accept the fact that it took around 40 weeks for the body to make a human and prepare for delivery, so in turn, it will take time for the body to return back to what you are used to. It may not even happen though. Depending on if you are planning to have more children, or if you have just had your third, each and every pregnancy is different.
Remember: It is no longer only your body. You have shared your body with the tiny humans you have created. Your body has nurtured them and will continue to do so, physically and mentally, for the rest of your life.
Returning to exercise isn’t always easy.
Waiting 6-8 weeks after delivery is typically recommended. However, if you had a C-section, you may not be able to recover as quickly. For some, it can take months to recover and although your doctor may “clear you for exercise” be certain that this means light and gentle exercise. Getting outside and going on a walk with your new baby is probably one of the best exercises you can get for your body and your mind. This was a game changer for me. You can wear your baby in a front carrier facing inward as early as you want. This allows you to go on walks where there may not be a stroller path. Be careful though if you choose to hike where there may be tree roots or rocks you could trip on. See your carrier instructions for different ways to wear your baby.
Dieting isn’t recommended right away after giving birth.
Your body needs calories and nutrients to feed your baby and for the healing process to begin. This is true especially if you are nursing because your body can burn up to 500 calories a day just by making milk for your baby! A diet high in protein and healthy fats will supply you with enough energy to take care of your baby while the extra weight you gained during pregnancy can come off. Keep healthy snacks around like nuts, guacamole, peanut butter with celery, vegetables and hummus, etc. Drink lots of water and be sure to measure it if you aren’t sure if you’re getting enough. Drinking 2-3 quarts of water is recommended to keep you hydrated if you are nursing.
“If breastfeeding is so natural, why is it so hard?”
The number one topic of discussion in some of the postpartum depression support groups that mother and founder of Postpartum Support Virginia, Adrienne Griffin, has been involved in is breastfeeding.5 For some women, breastfeeding exacerbates their anxiety because they are experiencing too much pain, worried their baby isn’t getting enough, worried they aren’t going to be able to maintain their supply, or just concerned about what others would think if they stopped. The rate has been shown to be as high as 92% of mothers reporting breastfeeding challenges during their first week postpartum.6
Pain is very common when a new mother starts nursing. Let’s face it, they don’t make nipple cream for nothing. The soreness does go away as both you and your baby learn how to nurse together. Although breastfeeding is instinctive, there is a learning curve when it comes to breastfeeding and it may take weeks before you and your baby master the skill. This learning process involves multiple times a day (every 2-3 hours in fact) of attempting the latch, finding a comfortable position to hold the baby, make sure they are swallowing, switching breasts, etc. Remember, we are born with the innate ability to find the breast and feed.
If you are having trouble, do not wait until you cannot take the pain anymore. Reach out to a professional such as your OB/GYN, a La Leche League leader, postpartum doula or midwife, or even a parent for help.
Find Out What You are Missing
You may have been deficient in Vitamin D during pregnancy and never knew it if you weren’t tested. I was super low when I was first tested. Most nurses and OB/GYN doctors only ask if you have been taking a pre-natal vitamin. However, most pre-natal vitamins do not have enough Vitamin D in them to achieve optimal status at serum levels. A recent study published in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health suggests that low vitamin D levels in mothers during pregnancy increases the risk for postnatal depressive symptoms.8 Vitamin D supplementation is a low-cost and safe intervention for all pregnant women.
Is your HDL Cholesterol high enough? Cholesterol also happens to be a precursor to sex hormones and vital for vitamin D physiology. In a well-known study published by the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the authors found that postnatal participants with depressive symptoms had lower serum HDL concentrations.9 This type of cholesterol can be raised by taking a supplement rich in Omega-3 such as Fish Oil. Dietary intake of avocado, nuts, fish, olive oil, coconut oil are all good options.
Vitamin D and HDL Cholesterol levels are just two of many missing links that may be contributing towards depressive symptoms after giving birth. You are experiencing all sorts of feelings at once in this time in your life. Whether you are a new mother or considered a veteran, every child is different, and you will face different obstacles to overcome. So, take the guesswork out of your health. See an experienced doctor that will test a comprehensive panel in the blood and check your toxic element status so you can be sure you are doing everything you can for you and your baby.
There are safe, natural treatment options for depressive disorders and anxiety.
Most supplements are safe to take during and after pregnancy, even if you are nursing. By testing first, you won’t fill your valuable time reading labels or taking supplements by trial and error. Your doctor will tailor a detailed program for you to follow that can optimize levels in the blood to avoid and/or improve depressive disorders. Depression should not be taken lightly. It is not just you who will be affected; you now have a baby who relies on you for care and comfort. We also offer neurofeedback in our office. This brain therapy uses light and sound to retrain your brain. It has helped many of our patients get out of that deep depression. Love and Light can heal your brain.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help during these tough times. You want to cherish these moments that only will last so long.
But, you can do more when it comes to prevention. Just as we have been recommending for many years annual or semi-annual blood tests can catch problems before they become full blown crisis. It’s just as important for a woman to get tested prior to conception, during pregnancy and post-partum to identify nutritional imbalances and toxicities that could affect the outcome of each state of fertility. Contact our office for further details because it is never too early in life to work toward prevention.
I hope my column speaks to you and you can wake up each morning with a purpose. What I do every day is a calling, and I give God the glory for allowing his gifts to work through me. I do believe in miracles, because I get to see them every day! If you would like to contact me with your health concerns email me directly at Dr@drcorinneweaver.com. For more information you can go to www.DrCorinneWeaver.com or sign up for my closed Facebook group #NoMoreMeds-Community for more healthy tips https://m.facebook.com/groups/1845828392308723 .
Dr. Corinne Weaver
Dr. Corinne Weaver is a compassionate upper cervical chiropractor, educator, motivational speaker, mother of three, and internationally bestselling author. In 2004, she founded the Upper Cervical Wellness Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the last 13 years, she has helped thousands of clients restore their brain to-body function. When she was 10 years old, she lost her own health as the result of a bike accident that led to having asthma and allergy issues that she thought she would always have to endure. Then, after her first upper cervical adjustment at age 21, her health began to improve thanks to upper cervical care and natural herbal remedies. This enabled her to create a drug-free wellness lifestyle for herself and her family, and she also enthusiastically discovered her calling to help children heal naturally.
Dr. Weaver was recently named one of Charlotte Magazine's "Top Doctors" in 2016 and is now a number-one internationally bestselling author to two books: Learning How to Breathe and No More Meds.
Upper Cervical Wellness Center is known for finding the root cause of health concerns through lifestyle changes, diagnostic testing, nutraceutical supplementation, and correction of subluxation (as opposed to just medicating the symptoms). The practice offers cutting-edge technological care at its state-of-the-art facility, including laser-aligned upper cervical X-rays, bioimpedance analysis (measures body composition), digital thermography (locates thermal abnormalities characterized by skin inflammation), and complete nutritional blood analysis, which is focused on disease prevention.