Throughout my pregnancy, I heard women talk briefly of post-partum depression and anxiety, but never thought too much about it. I had never dealt with any form of depression in my life before, so I figured I was in the clear. When Asher was born, I was ecstatic! Yes, I was exhausted, but happy. There was no drama in my life, and I had so much to be thankful for. No PPD for me, I thought. About 10 months passed, and my baby-moon was slowly fading. My exhaustion was reaching an all time high, my hormones were still imbalanced, and my expectations were not going as I had anticipated. Out of nowhere, I found myself in the midst of a lot of anxiety and stress and did not know what to do.
I remember feeling scared, not knowing when these negative emotions and feelings would go away and not knowing how to handle them. I had always relied heavily on nutrition to answer all my health concerns, so I thought if I became “super” healthy I would feel better. I began cutting foods out and became very strict with what I ate; I was in search of the “perfect” diet. My search for perfection ended in a state of more confusion, more digestive problems, and more anxiety.
I discovered that nutritional deficiencies were perhaps one piece of the puzzle when it came to PPD, but there were also so many other pieces that I was not acknowledging. Here, is what I found through my experience and how I used natural solutions to heal my body and mind.
I am by no means a doctor or a therapist, just a certified nutrition coach and a mama.
Symptoms of PPD include:
I experienced all of these symptoms at one time or another. I remember having many nightmares, waking up often, feeling overwhelmed and sad (over nothing) digestive complaints, and extreme fatigue. I would wake up after 12 hours of sleep and still feel achy and tired. I often told people close to me that I felt like I was just trying to stay afloat most days. I am naturally a very self-motivated, driven person so when I started to lose my natural drive, I was shocked. Many of the things I once enjoyed were not enjoyable at all. I just felt hopeless. If I could talk to myself during that time, I would say, “Relax, you don’t have to be super-mom!”
I had no idea how much stress and a negative mindset could have an impact on your body! I was always bloated and my stomach was often upset, no matter what I ate. It was around this time that I decided to study nutrition and become a certified coach. Through my studies, I realized that I desperately needed some balance in my life. I also needed to correct my mindset. It was encouraging to see my joy and motivation slowly come back. I let myself find enjoyment in food again, instead of it controlling me. I was finally able to relax!
It is becoming more recognized that nutritional deficiencies do play a large role in PPD. It makes sense. When we are pregnant, the baby takes much of our nutrients in order to grow. Once the baby is born, many women are slightly depleted. And while nursing is a healthy solution for many reasons for both mama and baby, it can also further deplete the mother if not careful.
I found myself craving a lot of sugar and simple carbs during the first year. These foods not only tasted good, but they were also typically quick to eat, lifted my spirits for a second, and gave me a few more minutes of energy. However, it was a fake energy, one that would soon crash and make me feel worst. After talking with a registered dietician and incorporating more nutrients into my diet, I found myself beginning to feel better.
Fats keep us satiated. This means, less cravings. Think: olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and pasture-raised eggs.
Protein also takes longer to digest compared to carbs. Try grass-fed and pasture raised meats, wild fish, beans, nuts, and tempeh.
Omega 3 is proven to lower inflammation in the body. Most people with depression symptoms, when tested, show high levels of inflammation in their cells. Omega 3 is found in wild fish, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, hemp hearts, & egg yolks (I take a high quality fish oil daily).
B vitamins help with low energy levels, especially B12, and a deficiency can only add to adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalances. Think: Variety, colorful vegetables, especially greens, beans, nuts & seeds, eggs, wild fish, liver, lamb and cottage cheese.
I found collagen to help tremendously during this time! Collagen fights inflammation, heals the gut lining, which ensures we absorb more nutrients in our food, and is great for your skin, hair and nails. I was so happy to see my hair get thicker! I add a scoop of grass-fed collagen to my post-workout drink or morning smoothie.
Good intestinal bacteria produce chemicals such as: serotonin, melatonin and acetylcholine. These greatly affect our brain health and explain why the link between the gut and brain are so important. A study in Gastroenterology found that 64% of people with mild to moderate anxiety or depression that took a daily probiotic for 6 weeks experienced fewer depression symptoms (I take a 50B CFU SBO probiotic daily, I also love this one).
Known as one of the most important minerals, calms and relaxes the muscles. I have found that magnesium has helped my clients with digestive complaints and muscle cramps. Magnesium is sometimes more difficult to get in modern life due to soil depletion, pesticides and potassium based fertilizers that take the place of magnesium in plants, and caffeine and alcohol which slowly drain magnesium supplies from our body. This is why magnesium supplementation might be beneficial for some. Good sources include: nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. Epsom salt baths are also great sources. (Magnesium spray).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar, taken daily, helped me tremendously when I was suffering from candida (yeast) overgrowth. Sugar and carbs can cause candida to grow out of proportions in the gut, causing digestion problems, food sensitivities, allergies, eczema, and many more healthy problems. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) fights off candida overgrowth in the gut. Try taking a tsp in a glass of water in the mornings or right before a meal. I was pleasantly surprised with how much it helped my digestion complaints and energy levels!
Sunshine is so important for our bodies, soul and mind and is often overlooked! We douse our kids in sunscreen and wear long sleeve shirts and sunglasses all in hopes of blocking the sun out. While too much sun can be a bad thing, sunshine in moderation is incredibly healing! Vitamin D3 is a powerful nutrient produced on our skin after the suns UVB rays hit our skin. Because we have taken so much precaution these days to avoid the sun, more and more people are becoming deficient in this vitamin. About 5 years ago, I was severely deficient. My doctor recommended I take 10,000 IU daily to up my levels. I was surprised to see my skin turn from dry and flakey to smooth and glowing. My energy levels, mood and immune system greatly improved also! (I take anywhere from 1,000 – 5,000 IU daily only in the winter months).
Soothing hot tea
CBD oil (and/or essential oils)
CBD oil, which comes from cannabis (without the THC), does an incredible job at relaxing the body and lowering inflammation. Not only does it aid in anxiety but also sleep problems. Try a small dropper before bed or whenever you’re feeling any angst. It always helps me! We get this one. My favorite essential oils for anxiety are lavender, geranium and myrrh, but there are many more than just those!
According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, moderate levels of physical activity (like a 20-30 minute walk a day) helps ward of depression in people of all ages. I found when I began working out on a consistent basis, my anxiety improved tremendously. In today’s modern world, it’s just so easy to lounge and sit all day. Working out is a great way to eliminate the hormone cortisol from our bodies, which can only aggravate symptoms of anxiety. Try weight training, yoga, fast walking/running, or a high intensity exercise program.
Stanford researchers found in a study that people who walked in nature for 90 minutes as opposed to people who walked in an urban setting had decreased activity in a section of the brain associated with depression. In addition to taking a walk outside, I also find plants within my home or a window that looks out toward nature to help tremendously with my perspective and mindset.
This is a powerful trick to calm the mind and body. Once learned, you are able to block out all the stresses and thoughts from the outside and focus internally. Takes a lot of practice and patience at first, but can allow the mind to simply stop thinking. As a Believer, I also find prayer and quiet times with God to greatly help my mindset and perspective.
Practicing breathing techniques is another tool that can really calm the mind. A friend once told me about them and they always help me! Try the 4 count breathing technique, or the alternate nostril breathing practiced in yoga. Both are very effective.
Make sure you are getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night. And if possible, nap when baby naps. I am incredibly stubborn, and hate napping. “So much can be done when the baby is napping!” I often tell myself. However, even laying down for 10 minutes can recharge your body and mind. I admit I am still not the best at this.
Recent studies show that elevated inflammation in the body contributes to symptoms of depression. During this time, my blood tests showed that my inflammation markers were slightly elevated. Great natural sources for lowering inflammation are: omega 3’s (such as quality fish oil), working out, sunshine, lowering carb and sugar intake, and increasing B vitamins & collagen. You can also try adding turmeric and ginger to your diet! I have a great recipe for a turmeric latte and like to add fresh ginger to my smoothies. By incorporating these nutrients and prioritizing working out and spending time outside I found myself feeling much better!
Having a support system you trust during this time can change everything. I often felt stressed because I lived in a city without family nearby, and I was overly cautious with who I let watch my baby. I overlooked time for myself and this really ended up catching up to me. Look for family, friends, or a trusted nanny in your area to help out when needed.
This is something that I am not the best at! I found that incorporating more balance in my life helped relieve a lot of the petty stressors getting me down. Overworking and working toward “getting to the top of the ladder” is a common American problem. I felt the pressure to be “super-mom” and let it get the best of me. Set a priority list, and stick to it. This will allow you to see what’s important in your life and what doesn’t have to be done that exact moment. What can you let go? Too many activities? Long hours at work? Too many social events? Consider what is important and what time of the day you can allow in your schedule to just give to yourself.
Like I said earlier, I am not an expert, these are just techniques and foods that helped me. My mother in law once said, “Feelings are just feelings, let them come and go.” This has always stuck with me! Today, I am thankful I have more energy, confidence, and joy. When I look back at those not very fun few months I see many simple things I could have done differently that would have made a huge difference. A different perspective, a priorities list, and a different mindset would have helped more than I would have ever thought. When any of these feelings begin to creep up again, I now know how to tackle them and what makes me feel good. I no longer take peace and joy for granted! I hope you find something in here that encourages you and feel free to leave a comment or ask a question!