This week, it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week and I wanted to share with you a topic close to my heart. Not because I have suffered with it, but because my mother did when she had me. For many women there is a stigma attached to it. This is the time when they are supposed to feel the most joy and love, and while they love their new-born, finding the joy can be a struggle.
Postnatal, or postpartum depression affects an estimated 13% of women who have recently given birth. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 400,000 mothers experience this mood disorder each year. It is a serious condition that can have serious and long-lasting effects for the mother and her family.
Postnatal depression has been associated with a broad negative impact upon child development, including difficult infant and childhood temperament, attachment insecurity, and increased risk of developmental delay and lower IQ scores. There is also a substantial rate of suicide in the postpartum, as maternal suicide accounts for up to 20% of postnatal deaths in depressed women.
I share this information with you not to alarm or upset, but rather to highlight where Complementary Therapies can be used to support mothers, and in turn, their children. If you are familiar with my background, you will know I too have suffered with depression, and while my mother’s depression is not the cause, my attachment insecurities were certainly a contributing factor.
So how can complementary therapies help?
Typically, conventional treatment has three components: psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, and psychosocial care. Psychosocial care is the supportive measures given to a woman with postpartum depression such as nutrition, understanding, rest and relaxation, spirituality, and exercise.
The most routinely prescribed conventional treatment is antidepressant medication along with counselling. Many women do not wish to take prescription drugs during this time, particularly when they are breast feeding. Therefore, complementary and alternative medicines are often sought. (Complementary treatments are those used along with regular medical care and Alternative treatments are those used instead of standard medicine.)
Now, while we know there have been many studies indicating the effectiveness of different therapies, it is still generally considered that there is not yet enough data to fully validate this. It is also recognised though, that good social support, adequate sleep and good nutrition are incredibly important factors for the prevention of postpartum mood disorders. Additionally, there are many studies with positive results, as shown below.
What can help?
Acupuncture: Many people enter a state of deep relaxation during treatments, which could benefit a woman with postpartum depression whose symptoms are often exacerbated by lack of sleep
Aromatherapy: studies have shown that lavender scent can induce a state of alertness, improve feelings of well-being, improve sleeping patterns, decrease aggression, and decrease anxiety
Herbs: A number of herbs and dietary supplements have demonstrable effects on mood, anxiety, and insomnia, which may in turn affect a woman's experience of postpartum depression.
Massage: The healing power of touch may have a positive effect on postpartum depression. Even the simplest massage may convey to the recipient a feeling of being cared for.
Meditation: Learning to meditate lets you “exist in the moment.” You focus on your breathing and let go of your thoughts. It might help you with your depression.
Self-Hypnosis: for relaxation, as learning to soothe oneself can help cope with depression. More than a dozen studies have shown that relaxation can help recovery.
Yoga: Exercise is a proven way to lift mild to moderate depression. In one study of depressed new mums, more than three-quarters of them who did yoga twice a week for 8 weeks felt better.
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Kennedy HP, Beck CT, Driscoll JW. A light in the fog: Caring for women with postpartum depression. J Midwifery Womens Health 2002;47:318-327.
Cott J. Dietary supplements and natural products as psychotherapeutic agents. Psychosom Med 1999;61:712-728.
Tiran D. Massage and aromatherapy. In Complementary therapies for pregnancy and childbirth, eds Tiran D and Mack S. Bailliére Tindall, New York (NY) 2000, 129-167.