Having a child is a huge milestone. It brings with it unprecedented changes, knowing that you have given life to a new person. The responsibilities of minding a baby can feel overwhelming, but having a baby is a wonderful thing. However, it makes perfect sense that you may struggle with stress for the first week or two. It is only if these feelings persist that there may be a bigger problem.
What is postnatal depression?
This is a depression that occurs after the birth of a child. Many women experience feelings of teariness and anxiety during the first week after they’ve had their baby. This is known as the ‘baby blues’ and is considered normal. It usually wears off in about two weeks. However, prolonged feelings of sadness and/or anxiety that occurred after giving birth is known as postnatal depression.
Stats of UK post natal depression
Postnatal is very common in the UK, and affects 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can affect fathers and partners, but it is less common.1
What causes postnatal depression?
There is no clear cause of postnatal depression, but some women might be predisposed to developing the condition. Women who have suffered from depression in the past, mental health problems during pregnancy, and women who feel as if they have no support network are most likely to develop postnatal depression. Having a baby is a life-changing event and can cause huge amounts of stress and exhaustion, so even without pre-existing conditions, women can develop postnatal depression. Unfortunately, because there is no definitive cause of postnatal depression, there is also no known way of preventing it.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of postnatal depression vary from person to person, but there are a number of signs that are common indicators or warning signs that someone is suffering from it. These include:
- A persistent feeling of sadness
- Lack of energy
- A loss of interest in hobbies
- Feeling unable to look after the baby
- Difficulty bonding with the baby or not enjoying the baby
- Feelings of guilt and blame
- Frightening thoughts, such as those about hurting the baby
- Constantly worrying that something is wrong with the baby, regardless of reassurance
- Similarly, if someone starts to neglect looking after themselves, has a loss or increase of appetite or difficulty sleeping, they may be developing postnatal depression.2
Dietary and lifestyle changes
If you have lost interest in all activities that previously brought you joy, and your diet has been erratic, there is a likelihood that you may be suffering from postnatal depression. Before you make any sudden changes to your diet and lifestyle, you should speak to your doctor. If you do not feel ready to seek professional advice, confide in your partner, a family member, friend or even a distant relative and remember you are not alone. There is also a helpful database of support links/hotlines, with plenty of advice here.
Things that may help you:
- Try to eat well - take it one meal at a time and aim to get some nutrients in you
- Try and exercise - even if this is a 10-minute walk to the shops or some stretching/yoga at home, but try not to overdo it
- Don't be so hard on yourself - no one is to blame, so take everything one step at a time and try not to add any more pressure
- Talk - there is no shame in the way you feel and talking will help you to feel less isolated
- Rest - whilst easier said than done, feelings of anxiety are likely to feel more intense when you need to rest. So see if a family member can watch your baby, or try to rest when they are sleeping.
Support from Partners and Loved ones:
Supporting someone with depression is so important and there are a few things that can help your loved ones to cope:
- Encourage her to see her GP and discuss treatment options
- Listen - don't offer advice, but simply ask about their thoughts and feelings
- Decide practical ways you may be able to help - it's important to encourage your loved one to do what they may feel up to, but understand that your practical support is needed during this time
- Understand - good and bad days will occur, but just being there emotionally is such a huge support to those who need it
- Give her some 'me time' - Encourage her to see friends or to do something she enjoys
Supplements for postnatal depression
If you think you or your partner is suffering from postnatal depression, you should make an appointment with your GP. There are supplements that can help with the symptoms of postnatal depression, but it is not advised to take them without prior consultation with your doctor. Breastfeeding women, in particular, will need to get medical approval. Your doctor may suggest any of the following supplements.
5-HTP is a natural and vital component of our bodies. It has a huge role to play in the regulation of neurotransmitters that control our appetites, sleep patterns and emotions. Often, mental health problems are caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.3 A number of studies have shown that 5-HTP may work as a treatment for mild to moderate depression.4 Speak to your doctor if you are thinking about taking a 5-HTP supplement.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, because our bodies produce it when they are exposed to UV rays. Unfortunately, in the UK, we do not get a lot of sun, and as such, there is an increased chance of being slightly deficient in this essential vitamin.5 There has also been some evidence to suggest that women who are deficient in Vitamin D during their pregnancy are more at risk of developing postnatal depression.6 Your doctor will be able to advise you, and check your levels of Vitamin D.
This plant is a member of the mint family, and has been used as a treatment for anxiety and stress for centuries.7 It is often used in conjunction with other calming herbs such as chamomile and brewed in tea.8 Because lemon balm can cause sleepiness, ensure you check with your doctor or midwife before you take it.
Most of us know that calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth, but a calcium deficiency has also been linked to depression.9 This is because calcium has a role to play in the proper functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain. In fact, women who have had low levels of calcium have seen improvements in their symptoms following increased calcium intake.10 Speak to your GP to see if they recommend a calcium supplement.
Folic acid has been taken by pregnant women and women of childbearing age for generations because it can decrease your child’s risk of developing a neural tube defect.11 However, a study published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012 has found that folic acid supplementation during pregnancy may decrease a woman’s risk of developing depression at 21 months after birth.12 While folic acid has been deemed safe for consumption during pregnancy, it is recommended to speak to your GP if you are breastfeeding.
Pregnant women have an increased risk of being deficient in iron, because your body produces more blood to deliver nutrients to your baby.13 Iron deficiency has been linked to anaemia, which can lead to fatigue and depression.14 Low levels of iron have also been linked to increased risk of postnatal depression.15 However, iron levels need to be carefully monitored, so it is always advisable to speak to your GP before taking an iron supplement.
This supplement contains differing doses of all the essential B Vitamins that our bodies need for optimal health. The vitamins work well on their own, but when combined they work even better.16 Vitamin B intake has been linked to mood disorders,17 so a supplement of B Complex may provide relief of symptoms of depression.
Having a child is a life-altering event, and can feel overwhelming and scary. These are normal, natural feelings, but if they linger for more than 2 weeks, you may be suffering from postnatal depression.
If you think you, or someone you know is suffering from postnatal depression, you should seek medical advice. While many supplements are relatively safe, women who are breastfeeding need to be careful that any supplements they take will not harm their baby. Your GP will inform you of any risks they may pose.
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