The beginning of motherhood is already a tumultuous and uncertain time for mothers. It’s no surprise, since following birth your body goes through intense physiological and psychological changes. The sudden lifestyle changes and responsibilities of caring for a newborn while recovering from birth can often lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty. In fact, 80% of new mothers are estimated to experience negative feelings and moodiness directly following birth, which are typically referred to as “baby blues.”(1)
While it’s normal to have baby blues (think: drastic changes in hormones, lack of sleep, nursing), it can be expected to dissipate within a few weeks postpartum. For 15% of new mothers, though, these negative feelings can continue or intensify and become postpartum depression (2). Sometimes it can even manifest over a year after birth.
So how do you know if you have postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression can vary from person to person in severity and length, but the following are common symptoms and can be an early indication that you have it (1):
Loss of interest
Hopelessness and despair
Anxiety or excessive worry
Lack or excessive concern for baby
Disturbances in sleep and appetite
Feelings of hurting the baby
If you find yourself experiencing multiple symptoms from this list, it is important to seek treatment from a medical professional early on to prevent worsening. Reach out to your primary care physician and find resources at organizations like Postpartum Support International (https://www.postpartum.net).
Women with a history of depression or have experienced postpartum depression in the past are more likely to experience PPD in subsequent pregnancies. Teenage mothers and those who have unsupportive partners, or those dealing with high-stress situations such as complicated pregnancies or delivering preterm babies are also at a higher risk.
Another risk factor for PPD is nutrient deficiencies, all too common after pregnancy, so one of the most proactive things you can do if you start to feel low is to make sure you are nourishing yourself with the right foods. Taking in high-quality, nutritious foods will help restore nutrients and hormonal balance that are essential for stabilizing your mood (3).
Try to incorporate the following to your diet:
Start the day with a breakfast rich in protein and low glycemic index carbohydrates such as bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchinis, leafy greens, and other colorful vegetables. Eggs are a breakfast favorite! They are delicious, nutritious, and versatile. A 3 egg spinach and mushroom omelet contains about 18g of protein and 1-2 servings of veggies.
Focus on protein intake for each of your meals, about 20 to 30 g per meal. Protein helps create mood-stabilizing neurochemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Remember that if you eat meat, grass-fed, roam-free and organic choices are your best options. Eggs are also a great option as they contain all essential amino acids your body needs and pack 6 g of protein each.
Avoid sugar and reduce consumption of grains (especially gluten-containing grains as gluten has been linked to depression) to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Choose low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as crunchy and colorful vegetables as well as nuts and seeds.
Incorporate leafy greens in each meal, including algae. These contain many important nutrients and are calming to the nervous system. Kale, spinach, seaweed, and swiss chard are great options!
Eat plenty of omega-3-rich (DHA) foods like sardines, pastured eggs, wild salmon, and algae. Flax and chia seeds contain ALA which needs to be converted into DHA in your body, but unfortunately, a smooth conversion doesn’t always take place. This may be why most studies show that flax seeds don’t raise DHA levels in blood and breastmilk as efficiently. I recommend all lactating mothers (and pregnant mothers too) to take an omega 3 supplement since our modern diet is typically very low on this nutrient and it is imperative for baby’s brain development and mother’s mental health. Mother Nutrient offers a great Omega-3 supplement with high levels of DHA +EPA.
Incorporate B-vitamins, which are essential in proper brain and nerve function. Their deficiencies (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and folate) have been linked to depression. Try adding nutritional yeast, chicken liver, salmon, ground beef, eggs, and avocados to your diet. Our Complete Postnatal Multivitamin packets were formulated to include all B-vitamins in adequate quantities to support you with postpartum recovery and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Low-fat diets have been linked to changes in mood, so add healthy fats like avocado, coconuts, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and eggs to your diet. (4)
Vitamin D has been shown to have profound effects on the brain, and research has linked depression to low levels of vitamin D (5). In fact, most of the US population are deficient in this important nutrient, so supplementation is highly recommended. Take no more than 1,000 IU of D3 daily if levels have not been tested, and 2,000-5,000 IU if levels are low. Mother Nutrient’s Vitamin D3 comes in liquid form and is combined with MCT (coconut) oil, since vitamin D is fat-soluble and better absorbed with fat. We also have a Vitamin D3 + K2 in capsule form with 5,000 IU. Yes, we’ve thought of everything ;-)
Take a probiotic – have you ever heard that your gut and your brain are connected? Having a healthy gut has a huge impact on your brain function and mood. Long-term supplementation with probiotics has been shown to alleviate both anxiety and depression (6). We have a Women's Probiotic that offers a high-strength blend of probiotics (40 billion CFU) that is designed to improve your overall gut function through 4 unique probiotic strains.
Take Saffron - Saffron extract, which is made from the stigma of the saffron crocus flower, was traditionally used for cooking and medicinal purposes. It has been clinically proven to enhance mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety without the side effects of traditional antidepressants (7,8). Our Saffron Extract contains 100% pure saffron extract to enhance mood, boosts energy, and supports weight loss by suppressing appetite.
Exercise. I know, this one is not diet-related, but research has consistently found that even gentle exercise can be as effective as medication in combating depression. No need to go all out or do strenuous exercise, get your blood flowing with daily stroller walks at first and ramping it up as you feel stronger.
If making these changes seems overwhelming, don’t worry! Start small and try incorporating a few nutritious foods every day. I know you are super busy now, so I’ve made it easy by choosing and developing the best supplements for new mothers. Explore our products here.
Most importantly, if you are struggling with mental health, PLEASE get help! It's one phone call away: 1-800-944-4773 (Postpartum Support International Helpline).
We offer a free wellness quiz to help you determine where you stand on a variety of health dimensions including energy level, nutrient deficiency, and emotional wellbeing.
It takes less than 5 minutes, and you get targeted diet, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations and a detailed nutrition report based on your results!
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Have questions about postpartum nutrition? What were some ways you incorporated healthy foods into your day? Tell me in the comment section below!
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Content found on this website is not considered medical advice. Please consult with a physician before making any medical or lifestyle changes.
1. Evans, Joel M. The Whole Pregnancy Handbook. An Obstetrician's Guide To Integrating Conventional And Alternative Medicine Before, During And After Pregnancy. Gotham Books, 2005.
2. Northrup, Christiane. Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom: Creating Physical And Emotional Health And Healing. Bantam Books, 2010.
3. Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. Therapeutic Nutrition – Part 2 Nutrition Consultant Training Program. NC209: Neurological Health. 2015
4. Wells A, Read N, Laugharne J, Ahluwalia N. Alterations in mood after changing to a low-fat diet. British Journal of Nutrition. 1998;79:23.
5. Wilkins C, Sheline Y, Roe C, Birge S, Morris J. Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Low Mood and Worse Cognitive Performance in Older Adults. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2006;14:1032-1040.
6. Steenbergen L, Sellaro R, van Hemert S, Bosch J, Colzato L. A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2015;48:258-264.
7. Tabeshpour J, Sobhani F, Sadjadi SA, Hosseinzadeh H, Mohajeri SA, Rajabi O, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of saffron stigma (Crocus sativus L.) in mothers suffering from mild-to-moderate postpartum depression. Phytomedicine. 2017;36:145–52.
8. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2014;29:517–27.