Post-Natal Depression

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

It is estimated that 50-70% of women experience the “blues” after childbirth. These “blues” can last from a couple days to two to three weeks. An estimated 1 out of 10 women experience more prolonged depression after childbirth. This prolonged depression is termed post natal depression (PND). Post natal depression can also occur any time during the first year after giving birth. Signs that may indicate post natal depression can include emotional, physical or behavioral changes such as unexplainable bouts of crying, mood swings, general malaise, fatigue, loss of appetite, not wanting to leave the house, inability to cope, anxiety, panic attacks, confusion, inability to think clearly, feelings of guilt, insomnia, forgetfulness, headaches, and aches and pains throughout the body. Symptoms vary from woman to woman and are not limited to those listed above. Fluctuations of hormones as well as the physical and emotional stress connected with childbirth may all play a role in post natal depression. There are many ways to deal with this form of depression. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider when determining the kinds of treatment that may be helpful. Counseling, psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants are available and can help in overcoming post natal depression. It is important that the healthcare provider or pharmacist discuss the possible side effects of prescribed medications to the new mother. Alternative therapies are also available and may include relaxation techniques such as meditation, tai chi, qi gong, yoga, and music therapy. Relaxation can be beneficial in calming the mind and reducing stress associated with being a new mother. Light therapy has also shown to have positive results in many cases of post natal depression. Other forms of therapy may include acupuncture, herbology and massage. There are many therapies available for post natal depression and are not limited to those listed above.

Traditional Chinese Medicine understands post natal depression as a result of imbalances in of the body. Acupuncture, herbology and massage can help balance these disharmonies and helps restore the body back to its normal state. The loss of blood and the amount of exertion placed on the woman during childbirth depletes the body as a whole. This depletion affects the emotional, physical and spiritual state of the woman. Traditional Chinese Medicine feels that post natal depression can be a direct result from the blood loss during delivery. Blood is energy and nourishes the body. The heart in Chinese medicine governs the blood and houses the mind. When there is heart blood deficiency the mind cannot rest. At night the mind rests in the heart and the body can have a restful sleep. During the day the mind is aware and conscious of the surrounding environment. If the heart’s blood is deficient the mind cannot settle. The heart is not strong enough to nourish the mind and keep it at rest. The mind becomes restless, anxious, and depressed. The body becomes fatigued and the mind is confused and cannot think clearly. From the blood deficiency other conditions may arise. The blood is a form of fluid. If blood is deficient or depleted in the body the fluid is also depleted. This form of deficiency is unable to cool and nourish the body and may lead to feelings of being flushed, agitated, irritated and restless. If this condition is not resolved the depression can become more severe with more intense insomnia, agitation, frustration and irritability.

TCM believes that the more serious conditions associated with post natal depression such as neurotic, obsessive, phobic disorders, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and destructive thoughts about the baby are disorders from retention of lochia or blood in the conception channel. Acupuncture, herbology and massage can be an effective form of treatment for post natal depression. Herbs can be recommended for post natal depression by a qualified herbal practitioner but it is very important to inform the practitioner if the child is breast feeding, as certain herbs are contraindicated. A qualified herbologist can prescribe an appropriate formula.

Post natal depression can be very frustrating and difficult to understand for the mother and her family, especially since most have expectations of joy and happiness associated with having a baby. It is important to remember however, that post natal depression is an actually disorder with many treatment options available.