Recently I participated in a workshop focused on supporting women struggling with post-partum depression.
The workshop facilitator was American herbalist, Meryl Kastin Flocchini.
Meryl works with several mid-wives in Idaho supporting women through pregnancy, labour and the months following the birth of their child.
She spoke passionately about recognizing and helping a mom in the throws of post-partum depression, having suffered with it herself.
In the States, Meryl quoted the statistics on women struggling with post-partum depression as being anywhere between four to 25 per cent. She also claimed women who have a caesarean section are at greater risk of depression than women who deliver vaginally.
Because of the wide ranging statistics Meryl quoted, I decided to do some of my own research. According to The Canadian Mental Health Association, 15 to 20 per cent of women in the general population will suffer with post-partum depression.
Thirty per cent of women with a history of depression will experience post-partum depression. Fifty per cent of women who have struggled with post partum depression will be overcome by depression with subsequent births.
If these statistics are correct, post-partum depression is a major challenge for many women, their babies and families in Canada.
In Meryl’s experience, she found that it was difficult for people to understand the profound sadness and anxiety she felt following the birth of her child. Many people told her she should be happy with the blessing of her child.
This did not help Meryl, she only felt guiltier. Guilt is one of the symptoms of post-partum depression.
Some told her it was the baby blues and it would pass if she just pulled herself together. Four months into depression Meryl knew she was feeling more then baby blues.
Many women experience the baby blues shortly after giving birth. They feel sad or anxious, maybe irritable or exhausted.
Many of these are symptoms also occur in post partum depression.
The difference between the baby blues and depression is: the baby blues generally last no longer than a week. Post-partum depression last for months, for some women years.
I also looked into the research on the relationship between caesareans sections and depression. The jury is out.
Some research says there is a definite relationship while other studies find there is no such relationship.
In terms of anecdotal evidence from mom’s who have had a caesarean and post-partum depression, the scales tip towards a relationship.
There are three primary factors at play to trigger depression following a caesarean.
1. During vaginal labour and delivery mom’s brain releases mega doses of the love hormone oxytocin. This hormone supports mother/infant bonding moments after birth.
One of the challenges women struggle with during post-partum depression is difficulty bonding with their new born.
Cesearans reduce the amount of oxytocin available to the new mom’s brain.
2. Immediately following most caesarean deliveries the infant is taken to another room while the mom is stitched up and remains in recovery. This time, immediately after birth is called “The Golden Hour” when nursing is initiated.
Tiny glands in the mom’s breast secret a hormone which smells just like the amniotic fluid the baby has been living in for the past nine months.
It is the scent of this hormone which guides the new born to the breast. Once suckling, a further surge of oxytocin hits the mom’s brain making her feel good.
3. Recovery from a caesarean takes four to eight weeks, depending on how well mom stays off her feet with a new born and possibly other children at home.
Trying to care for a new born when one is struggling to perform basic care for oneself is difficult indeed.
Obviously, if there is a risk to the mother or child, depression or not, a caesarean section is the option to choose.
From the herbal tradition there are many ways to prevent post-partum depression as well support a woman while she struggles to regain perspective and balance after birth.
One mid-wife in Idaho Meryl works with has all her moms take a Vitex agnus-castus tincture during their last month of pregnancy.
Vitex moderates the hormonal swings immediately following labour (which is the possible cause of the baby blues) and supports the woman in regaining emotional balance.
It also is used to make rich breast milk.
In the next column I will explore further ways in which traditional herbal medicine can support women following the birth of her child.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.