Nutrition and Post Natal Depression

Whilst getting the baby blues (feeling emotional and low during the first week of your new baby’s life) happens to most women, sadly around 15% of women will experience post natal depression, which is far more overwhelming and can last for years following the birth of a child.

pregnant woman1

The “baby blues” is believed to be connected to the sudden change in hormones following birth, or with the time when milk comes in and usually passes within days. Post natal depression however will linger beyond the initial weeks. Some of the signs of post natal depression are: mood swings, feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem, despair, tearfulness, exhaustion and changes in appetite.

There is much you can do to support yourself to avoid and lessen the impact of post natal depression, and this article will explore some of these areas.

Just before a baby is born the mother transfers a large supply of zinc to her baby, meaning that unless she made a conscious effort to top up her levels in the last few weeks before giving birth, she might become deficient. This would be especially likely if the labour had been long or she had had a C section, as the body uses up a lot of zinc in times of stress or to support healing. One of the many implications of a zinc deficiency is depression, hence the link with post natal depression. Other signs of a zinc deficiency are white spots on the nails, stretch marks and a susceptibility to infections. In order to avoid zinc deficiency or correct it if you suspect that you might be deficient is to increase your intake of zinc rich foods: nuts, seeds (sesame, pumpkin and sunflower), oats, mushrooms, protein (beef, lamb, chicken, seafood), asparagus and spinach and to take a zinc supplement of 15mg twice a day until you see an improvement in mood.

Research has revealed that mothers who increased their intake of seafood (rich in zinc and essential fats) in the last trimester of their pregnancies showed less signs of major depression before birth, and for up to eight months after the birth.

Our brains are 90% fat, and rely on a good supply of essential fats to keep them healthy. There is a proven link between diets low in essential fats and depression, and post natal depression is no different. Those women with the highest intakes of the essential fat omega 3 are half as likely to suffer from depression as those with the lowest.

Throughout your pregnancy and the time that you are breastfeeding you should ensure that your diet is rich in the essential fats, omega 3 and 6. These are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings and trout, and in nuts, seeds and their oils. If you don’t eat fish, which provides omega 3, walnuts are a rich source and are great for snacking on between meals, and flax seed (also known as linseed) can be sprinkled on muesli, granola or porridge. I would also recommend supplementing omega 3 during pregnancy and after the birth, to ensure that your intake is adequate. The best supplements to take are fish oils, but if you are a vegan or vegetarian there are a number of alternatives available, with the richest sources being derived from algae.

Another contributor to feelings of low mood and irritability is poorly balanced blood sugar levels. Incorporate the following tips into your day and you should find that your blood sugar levels and therefore mood and energy are more even:

  • Never go for more than 2 – 3 hours without food. Three meals a day, and two snacks, mid morning and mid afternoon will keep your energy levels stable, and you won’t have crashing blood sugar levels.
  • Always combine protein with complex carbohydrates at every meal and snack. For example wholemeal toast and peanut butter; scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast; or granola with nuts, seeds and live yoghurt for breakfast. For a snack you could combine a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts or seeds, or oatcakes with hoummous.
  • Cut down on your intake of stimulants such as tea, coffee, coke and chocolate, as these cause your blood sugar levels to rocket, and subsequently crash

Following the advice in this article should improve your mood, but if it doesn’t please seek the advice of your GP and find someone supportive to talk to about your feelings, and to help you deal with the pressures of coping with a small baby.

If you would like to find out how nutrition can support fertility or pregnancy, please contact Emily on 07967 639347 or email I offer one to one consultations in a family friendly clinic in Northfields. Read more about nutritional therapy and about my practice.

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