Preventing Mood Disorders During Pregnancy & Postpartum

November 13, 2012

Of course there is only so much control that you have over your hormones, neurotransmitters, and genetics, all of which play a part in whether you will develop a mood disorder during pregnancy or postpartum. These are not the only factors that determine whether a person will develop a mood disorder or not, however, and there are things that you can do that can affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. I’m saying this because in some cases, there is not much that you can do to prevent a mood disorder, but in other people, engaging in some of these activities may make a big difference. If you would like to improve your mood during pregnacy and postpartum, here is a list of activities you can do in order to help. I will explain those that I believe warrant more explanation but please feel free to leave any comments or questions if you need. Also, these are not listed in any specific order, but instead just in the order that I thought about them!

1. Exercise- A good workout can help boost the feel good hormones in your brain and has been shown to even be helpful in improving mood in those who are currently experiencing a mood disorder!

2. Seek out a support network- You have heard me state this before, but having other people around you, feeling understood and cared for, and feeling like your not alone can go a long way in preventing mood problems.

3. Take care of yourself and your needs- Even though your focus may be on other people, especially the little ones you are growing and raising, you need to make sure you are doing things for yourself as well. If you are drained and unhappy then it makes it much harder to give of yourself and can start a downward spiral. This can be engaging in your hobbies and things you enjoy, getting a massage or pedicure, taking a bath, or anything else that is just for you.

4. Get help around the house- We are one of the few cultures that do not give moms more help with chores during pregnancy and postpartum (and we have the higher rates of issues!) It will just take a little bit of stress off of you to allow others to help you.

5. Yoga- I’m feeling a whole blog entry about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy because the benefits are just too many to list here but suffice it to say that it is a great stress reducer.

6. Change your thought patterns- Pay attention to your thoughts, notice any negative thought patterns or cycles and begin by interrupting them and counteracting them. Our thoughts influence our feelings which influence our actions!

7. Get out of the house- It can become so easy to get stuck in a rut, to feel too worn out to leave the house, or to just be worried about exposing a new baby to germs but staying home all the time can lead to feelings of isolation.

8. Spend time outdoors- The bright sunshine, fresh air, and appeal of nature are known for improving moods.

9. Alternative Medicine- There are many alternative medical practices that are safe during pregnancy and can help improve moods. Homeopathic remedies (my doctor uses drops) are safe and helpful, or you could check into acupunture, acupressure (although some points are not recommended during pregnancy), aromatherapy (again not all is safe during pregnancy so do your research first) or chiropractic care as well as other alternative therapies.

10. Massage- This therapeutic touch can not only be relaxing but can help release endorphins.

11. Meditation & deep breathing- It is important to ensure that you and your baby are getting all the oxygen you need and meditation can help you focus on your breathing while relaxing your body as you release all the stress and nagging thoughts of the day.

12. Increase your omega 3 fatty acids- Research has shown that people who get more omega 3 fatty acids in their diet have a lower incidence of depression. It will also help ensure your baby is getting enough in utero or through breastmilk to help develop the brain develop effectively.

13. Imitate joy- Sometimes just by acting happy even when you don’t feel like it can help snap you out of the mood and get you doing the very things that will help you improve.

14. Participate in activities you enjoy- If possible, don’t stop activities you enjoy. Due to limitations of pregnancy or for other reasons it may be necessary, but make sure to find other things you enjoy just as much!

15. Music- Music can have a big effect on your thoughts and mood. Choose music that makes you happy or relaxed.

16. Hire a doula- A doula can be a positive support person who can help you through the pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum process.

17. Sleep- It may be hard during different stages of pregnacy or even during the first few sleepless months but it will be important to sleep when you can (while also not sleeping too much- if thats even possible during this time) to give your body the rest in needs to repair itself and for you to think properly.

18. Nurse if possible- Nursing releases oxytocin another feel good hormone.

19. Placenta pills- Now I don’t know much about this one but it was brought up to me while I was presenting on this topic the last time. You can have someone take the placenta and make pills out of it and it is said to be helpful with postpartum depression and with menopause. Maybe something to consider if you aren’t too squeamish!

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Postpartum Depression

October 9, 2012

First, let me get this out of the way. There is technically no disorder called Postpartum Depression, at least in the DSM which is the manual used to diagnose mental health disorders. It is actually Major Depressive Disorde with Postpartum Onset, but since that is long and everyone knows it by Postpartum Depression, I will be using that or PPD for short.

PPD is a mental health disorder in which a woman becomes clinically depressed within one year of childbirth. It may be hard for some people to tell the difference at first between typical baby blues and PPD. PPD is characterized by feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, mood swings, changes in appetite and sleeping, loss of interests and loss of energy. You may also experience anxiety, tearfulness, feelings of vulnerability, irritability, and feel disconnected from your baby but these are also symptoms of the baby blues.  You do not have to have all symptoms but would need to be experiencing some of these symptoms and they must last for over 3 weeks.  Some of the differences are that the baby blues will start a few days to one month after childbirth instead of anytime during the first year, and will last less than 3 weeks. There is also differences in severity, the first list of symptoms are not as likely with the baby blues.

Women who have a history of depression, meaning that they have already experienced a depressive episode in the past are much more likely to experience PPD. Other factors that could increase your risk of PPD are low self-esteem, history of anxiety, lack of social support, history of eating disorders, and a family history of depression. If you have experienced any of these you may want to look into taking precautions to reduce your risk of PPD. I will provide a list in upcoming blog entries with things you can do to reduce your risk but one thing that I have already mentioned is increasing your support such as through a group as the pregnancy support group that I started.

Some of the possible effects of experiencing PPD for mom and the baby include a feeling of detachment and being disconnected as mom is not as interested in taking care of the baby and may shy away from her responsibilities or just be unable to perform them during this time. This can effect the bond of mom and baby, although it can always be recovered later. It will also increase the amount of stress and anxiety the baby feels, will increase crying, will make it more difficult for the baby to self-regulate and self-soothe themselves, and they are likely to show signs of decreased social engagement. A woman’s milk supply can also be effected negatively. As I stated already, once a person experiences depression they are more likely to have another episode in the future and this applies to when a woman experiences PPD.

If you are experiencing PPD, there are two therapies available, medication and counseling/therapy. I’m no expert on medication so you would need to weigh the pros and cons out with your doctor and decide on an individual basis about whether medication will be right for you. Whether you take medication or not, however, counseling is a good idea. A therapist can help you identify thinking patterns and behaviors that might be able to be changed in order to alleviate the symptoms of your depression and end the depressive episode.