Updated: Oct 23, 2022
A key concern I hear expecting mothers express all around is the fear of postpartum depression (PPD) as well as - what is coming to be more widely known and referred to as - postpartum anxiety (PPA). So many of the women I encounter wonder in distress:
What if I get it?
Does it have the potential to make me a danger to my baby?
Could it ruin my marriage or permanently affect my ability to mother well?
Will I be able to recognize it in myself to get treatment in time?
It's not a surprise, therefore, when one of expecting mothers' most burning desires happens to be a way in which they could prevent postpartum depression.
Recent data shows that, despite the fact that it is basically a hormonal imbalance, postpartum depression and anxiety are actually preventable to a great degree by taking certain proactive measures. I will be outlining them all for you in this article.
But first, let's be clear.
What is postpartum depression?
According to the American Psychological Association, postpartum depression is a mood disorder that may take days or even months to make its appearance. It is differentiated from what we call the "baby blues" in that it does not go away on its own nor is necessarily tied to a particular time-frame (i.e. the first few hours or days of childbirth).
It's prevalence ranges from 5 to 60,8% worldwide!
Some symptoms include:
Excessive crying and sadness that last for extended time periods
Thoughts of hurting oneself and/or the baby (must seek immediate assistance)
Fear of being a bad mother or even hurting the baby if left alone with it
Guilt, self-blame, and feelings of worthlessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in otherwise enjoyable activities
Mood swings that include agitation, irritability as well as anger outbursts
An overwhelming sense of anxiety or even panic attacks due to thoughts about the baby getting hurt
Changes in appetite (eating way more or way less than typically)
Lack of interest in the baby
Extended period of time where maintaining focus, recalling details or making decisions is particularly difficult
Given the fact that postpartum depression is linked to hormonal imbalances, most information online focuses on how to self-diagnose, help others in your surrounding social circle become more aware so that they, too, can detect its appearance, and how to cope following a diagnosis.
Still, there is quite a bit of recent research that suggests there are things a woman can do while pregnant to lessen the chances of having to face PPD and/or PPA.
Having said that, it's important to note that a woman who does get PPD or PPA and had not, for whatever reason, applied the following advice is not in any way, shape, or form at fault!
Am I at Risk?
Before getting into how to how to prevent postpartum depression and/or anxiety, you might want to see what the risk factors of its onset are. If so, visit this short article.
How to Prevent Postpartum Depression and/or Postpartum Anxiety
There are several risk factors, mentioned in this article, that are not preventable. However, there are those that can change the course of our brain chemistry and our physical as well as mental health so as to guard us (to an extent, at least) against PPD/PPA.
Nourish your body While pregnant, we try to be mindful of what we consume for the sake of the fetus. We also take the necessary supplements as directed by our doctor so that we don't experience any deficiencies as our body prioritizes the fetus's growth. Still, there are foods that, should we consume more of them, can make a distinct difference in the hormones that are and will be available to calm us during and after pregnancy. These include: => vegetables => fruits => legumes => olive oil => seafood* => dairy products and have a 50% potential of decreasing the chances of experiencing postpartum depression. *The effects of seafood and fish oils were studied across 23 countries, concluding that, due to the subsequent surge in the docosahecaenoic acid levels, increased seafood consumption led to a reduced risk of PPD.
Replenish all necessary vitamins & minerals Vitamins of the B complex were found to be the most significant in minimizing the onset of PPD/PPA. More specifically, this includes vitamins B2 and B6, which increases serotonin levels that, when high, ward off depression. In terms of micronutrients, it is fundamental that you have sufficient intake of zinc*, that also boosts serotonin levels and selenium, which wards off thyroid dysfunction (that, in itself, can also contribute to PPD). Zinc can be found in your diet through grains, red meat, and fish.
Stay active Consult with your doctor so that you include exercise in your 3rd trimester plan if permitted. In studying the link between exercise in the third trimester and PPD onset by the 6th-week postpartum, it was found that being active in the 3rd trimester significantly lowered the chance of having postpartum depression and anxiety. This is because exercise heightens the hormone endorphin, which is responsible for a better mood. Exercise also has a positive effect on self-confidence and efficacy, in part because of these hormonal bursts of joy,
Sleep well As pregnancy progresses, sleeping becomes more and more difficult. This is in part due to physical discomfort; the baby pushes on the bladder, waking you up every half hour to pee, while the size of your belly gives you minimal available sleeping positions so that you can rest comfortably without aching here and there. Another reason are the hormonal changes that surge in your body and may affect your ability to sleep soundly. Yet another is emotional; the excitement and anxiety of your entry into motherhood may spike your senses and not allow you to be relaxed enough to sleep deeply. Nonetheless, it is vital that you find ways to relax your mind so that you sleep as well as possible since chronic sleep deprivation can result in depressed mood, social isolation, inflammatory diseases, and defective glucose metabolism as well as immune system. One easy to apply and tried method to alleviate sleeplessness is by incorporating breathing and mindfulness practices into your daily routine, even if for only a few minutes each. These pacify the mind and have a positive effect on your emotional and physical health as a consequence, lowering the chances of developing postpartum depression in the process.
Maintain a strong support system The significance of a strong support system is invaluable. Research consistently finds that when new mothers have a helpful partner and a tight-knit, hands-on community to surround them during the beginning stages of motherhood, they have much higher chances of avoiding postpartum depression and anxiety. So, make sure that you set up a program ahead of time. Let people know the kind of support you'll need. And if you think you can and SHOULD be doing it all by yourself if you are to call yourself a successful mom and woman, let me stop you right there! This is the exact kind of thinking that elevates the chances of an onset of postpartum depression and its counterpart, anxiety. You should NOT have to do it all yourself, even if you can. When trying to be everything to everybody, you run yourself down until you start to feel like you are nothing. We do not want that!!! If you are wondering what kind of help you'll need, here are some ideas: - your partner can start taking on more housework and chores - a relative can cook meals for you regularly. If more are available they can take rounds so that it's easy on everyone - someone can come everyday to keep the baby so that you can shower and, if they are comfortable and willing, nap a little! - you can have regular visits where you can have someone to chat with (the first few weeks or months may have you in the house or strolling alone outside, and it can get to be lonely even for introverts or ambiverts like myself.) *A separate article with more such tips will follow! Understandably, this is not always a possibility, especially for those of us who live in the city, potentially too wrapped up in daily runaround to have much of a social circle at all. I have, in fact, encountered and worked with several expecting women who, due to loss, distance or bad relations may not have extended family to rely on. There are many women who start off the journey into motherhood (#matresence) with a partner and end up preparing for single-motherhood somewhere along the way. There are those who do have a partner but know that for one reason or another (e.g. work hours, lack of willingness, etc.) he/she will not be contributing much. In these cases, it's important to search for communities in your area, groups on social media, as well as online [expecting] mom circles, such as those offered through my course for expecting mothers or the one included via my membership for new moms. There are a lot such choices out there. And they've been created EXACTLY for this reason - because the need to reach out has never been more potent and, simultaneously, harder to achieve.
There are other factors that none of us can prevent (read about them here), but what you CAN do is be aware if you have any of them so that you can be proactive in seeking professional assistance from a skilled mental health professional and possibly enroll in a program like mine, which is designed to be proactive in managing those big emotions that come along with the birth of a mother.
Ghaedrahmati M, Kazemi A, Kheirabadi G, Ebrahimi A, Bahrami M. Postpartum depression risk factors: A narrative review. J Edu Health Promot 2017;6:60.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Depression.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 May 2022.