In my last column I looked at the fact that 15 to 20 per cent of Canadian women will suffer with post-partum depression.
No one really knows why some struggle with depression after giving birth; although some believe methods of delivery and sever drops in hormonal levels after birth are contributing factors. Women with a history of depression are at greater risk.
In this column, I will touch on some of the ways a woman can prevent post-partum depression as well as tools to overcome it.
I have already mentioned taking Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) in the last month of pregnancy may prevent post-partum depression.
Herbalists use this little seed to help women go throw all sorts of life transitions involving changes in hormonal balances.
Taking Vitex before labour and for several months afterwards will ease the hormonal transitions from being pregnant to being a mom.
Vitex also supports the release of prolactin, the hormone responsible for releasing breast milk. Some midwives recommend all their moms take vitex to prepare for labour and life with baby.
When baby is growing in the womb, she can use up mom’s supply of essential fatty acids and minerals.
Sometimes when I work with people who are struggling with depression, they say things like, “I have nothing left, I am empty, completely done!” Often these are individual who take care of others before caring for themselves. Their resources, physical, emotional and spiritual are depleted. In this way, at times, I see depression as a condition of depletion. A wellness protocol that includes minerals and EFAs replenishes their body/mind.
Baby uses essential fatty acid (EFAs), available through fish oils, borage oil and evening primrose, to build a smarty-pants brain and a steady nervous system. Unfortunately, if mom’s levels of EFAs are insufficient she ends up with a confused, foggy brain and reactive nerves. Taking blend of fish and plant oils during and following pregnancy will make both mom and baby a smarty-pants.
Minerals participate in every activity a cell undertakes. When the body is struggling with minerals depletion, there is often tension with accompanying lack of energy, blood sugar swing, heartburn, insomnia, along with many other health challenges including cavities. Pregnant and nursing moms are at risk for mineral depletion simply because baby uses minerals to build bones, muscles and a nervous system. Most pregnancy and nursing teas contain herbs rich in minerals.
These herbs help maintain mom’s stores of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, etc. and vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances the body’s ability to absorb minerals. My personal favourite pregnancy and nursing tea is nettles (Urtica dioica), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), raspberry leaf (Rubus spp.), rose hips (Roscea spp) and perhaps a little lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to relax the mind.
During the last months of pregnancy, when a woman uses vitex, takes EFAs and drinks a mineral rich tea, her body becomes strong and ready for physical and emotional demands of labour. After the baby is born her body recovers quickly from the extreme efforts it has made during the last months of pregnancy and delivery. Feeling strong and well is the opposite of depression.
Some suspect women suffer with post-partum depression because they missed the surge of oxytocin (the feel love, orgasm hormone) that accompanies labour and delivery. My favourite method to encourage release of oxytocin is a massage with jasmine essential oil.
A full body massage is best, in a pinch a foot massage will do.
Massage itself eases depression. Jasmine essential oil increases oxytocin levels in the brain. Having massage oil containing sensual jasmine kneaded into aching muscles guarantees sighs of relief. Jasmine is one of the most expensive essential oils on the market. It’s worth the price. One only needs a few drops to ease the pain of depression.
Finally, when depression has a grip on a new mom, I do not hesitate of offer her St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) and its helper herb skullcap (Scutellaria latrifolia). These two herbs combined kick start the flow of serotonin through the brain and body, relieving the symptoms of depression without causing concern for nursing baby. However, because I not believe increasing serotonin levels is the solution to depression in the long run, I encourage mom, once feeling better, to eat well, take up an enjoyable physical activity and express her creativity.
This way, she will teach her child, a balanced way of being in the world, preventing generational depression.
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.