Jennifer Etheridge LAc and Kerry Jenni LAc
What are postpartum mood disorders?
Approximately 80% of women experience some sort of postpartum mood disorder, the mildest of which is often termed the “baby blues.” Symptoms may appear within the first 24 hours after delivery and can include:
- Mood instability
- Decreased concentration
These symptoms are generally limited to the first few days to weeks postpartum and is actually quite common. According to Western medicine, many theories have been presented as to why this phenomenon occurs in women after giving birth. Some of these include; pituitary damage due to a sudden drop in blood pressure during delivery, sudden drop in serum thyroid hormone levels between the final trimester and the first few days postpartum, and there have also been studies investigating the role of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine that remain inconclusive. These symptoms usually abate as mom’s hormones regulate.
Postpartum depression may first appear to be nothing more than the baby blues, however, symptoms are more intense and longer lasting. They are symptoms which can eventually interfere with mom’s ability to care for her baby or handle other daily tasks. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability or anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of libido
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawal from friends and family
Untreated, postpartum depression may linger for a year or more.
How does Chinese Medicine view postpartum mood disorders?
According to Chinese medicine, the majority of postpartum mental-emotional disorders are rooted in vacuity or deficiency. It is extremely demanding on a woman’s body and resources to nurture and support a baby, and then to give birth. There is also excessive blood and fluid loss during the birthing process as well as consumption of blood and fluids during breast-feeding.
In Chinese medicine, the Heart (fire) houses the spirit, and the spirit is nourished and rooted in the blood. When the blood becomes weak, it cannot anchor the spirit, and the spirit becomes restless and unsettled. This can give rise to palpitations, insomnia, dizziness, agitation, and lack of tranquility among other things.
The Heart qi and blood are rooted in the Spleen (earth), and as such, Heart vacuity is often complicated by Spleen vacuity. This may give rise to fatigue, lethargy, lack of strength. The situation can become further complicated by the interference of the wood element (liver), causing symptoms of irritability, anger, dizziness, moodiness, etc.
How can Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine help?
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine may be used in both preventative and symptomatic treatment. By utilizing acupuncture, herbal formulas tailored to the woman’s specific needs and dietary counseling, a great deal can be done to help the condition. To help restore a woman’s energies after childbirth consider supplementing the diet with the following Qi and blood tonic foods:
- Bone marrow soup
- Chicken livers
- Flax Oil
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dark berries- raspberries and blueberries
Symptoms are, of course, best treated by means of prevention. This may include all of the therapies listed above during pregnancy or directly after delivery as well as throughout the first several weeks or months postpartum. Your acupuncturist can work with you to address specific symptoms you are currently experiencing or are worried about, as well as help to guide you toward a healthy diet for pregnancy and postpartum needs. If you or someone you love is experiencing signs of depression, please contact a primary care provider. Your acupuncturist can work to provide complementary care to reduce symptoms of depression.
Jennifer Etheridge, M.S.O.M., L.Ac and Kerry Jenni, M.S. L.Ac are nationally board certified and licensed acupuncturists providing care for a full range of health conditions including pregnancy and postpartum in downtown Montpelier at Integrative Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Jennifer and Kerry work in collaboration with medical providers from Central Vermont Medical Center to provide integrative health solutions. For more information and to schedule an appointment please visit www.integrativeaom.com and follow us on Facebook.