This is a post I made on my blog about my experience with PND and how I overcame it.
Like many conditions today, post-natal depression is a lifestyle experience. IE: it is often multi-factorial. Birth experience plays a huge part in the development of a mother’s confidence in her own ability to raise her children and the experience of post-natal depression, as does the space to bond in those precious few hours, days, and weeks afterward and her social support network during that time as well. But it can also go beyond this and can develop in spite of these particular factors being optimal.
The birth of my first child was ecstatic and empowering. I had a homebirth where I was in complete control. I hand-picked respectful people to be in my birth space so I was fully comfortable at all times. After the birth I felt invincible. My son latched on perfectly. It seemed as though I was a natural at breastfeeding. We co-slept and as such he slept soundly and my sleep quality was better than expected and we carried him everywhere. I breastfed on cue and he self-weaned at 3 years and 2 months. My support network was good in terms of both mine and my husband’s family being available, although I did not have a lot of friends of like-mind. We were the first in our circle to have a child and being the sort of ‘fringe-dwelling’ person that I am, also the first and only ones to practice continuum concept parenting.
Despite this blissful beginning I still sank in to the dark depths of post-natal depression. I will qualify here that I had a prior history of experiencing depression and anxiety however I do think that my experience simply illustrates a sub-clinical (or underlying) condition that many people in our society also have without realizing it. The depression lasted around 3.5 years and sadly, it has impacted on my relationship with my firstborn and my memories of him during that stage of his life. I experienced vagueness, fogginess, weight gain, chronic fatigue, emotional instability and irrationality, suicidal thoughts and general irritable bowel symptoms with a seemingly contradictory voracious hunger. I plunged myself deeper into my studies (of herbal medicine and nutrition)to try and find meaning and my only saving grace in being able to pull myself out of the mire was embarking on training to be a doula (traditional birth attendant) and independent childbirth educator. As my conscious began to re-awaken during this time I decided to look into allergy testing.
I had been a vegetarian since I was 15 but on a typical Standard Western Junk Vegetarian Diet, still heavy on the grains, and dairy. When I became pregnant I cleaned up my act a fair bit, reducing the dairy, increasing my fruit and veg intake, but still heavy on the grains. When my baby was born and I began breastfeeding my hunger increased 100 fold. I remember my Mother-in-Law bringing a meal of a large spinach quiche for our dinner and I ate the whole thing in one sitting before my husband came home from work. For a number of weeks this occurred on a daily basis. I just didn’t seem to be able to fill the emptiness inside. This may seem contradictory to many people who have experienced depression, as more often than not one will totally lose the appetite. I was breastfeeding exclusively which also increases a mothers’ calorie need so my insatiable hunger was a result of this need as well as what I later came to realize was not emotional eating but malnutrition.
The results of my allergy test indicated that I had a huge problem with wheat and the gluten grains, corn, all dairy, and another allergy test a few years later also indicated sensitivity to electricity. The cause of my allergies were a lifetime of assaults to my gut and as such I was not absorbing important nutrients such as b12. I immediately adopted a gluten and dairy-free diet with surprising results. The fogginess began to lift and I began to have the presence of mind to be able to come out of the depression. I finally became completely depression-free when I became raw vegan shortly about 5 weeks after my second child was born, eliminated all grains and animal products and allowed my gut to heal in order to increase my nutrient intake.
So in terms of ‘treating’ post-natal depression I really feel that there are a number of factors which contribute to its development which must be taken into consideration. However, most all of them will link back to what you are putting in your body. To summarize:
- Address any food issues before conception. Oftentimes pregnancy can mask obvious allergy/toxaemia symptoms although morning sickness, acid reflux and high blood pressure/pre-eclampsia are good indications of toxaemia. Prevention is better than ‘cure’. Although adopting an optimal wellness plan during pregnancy is always advisable.
- An autonomous birth (ie: where the mother is in control, comfortable, and has attendants respectful of her wishes on her birth team) will lend itself to contributing to a new mother’s confidence. A blissful birth outcome is also linked to a conscious awareness of optimal lifestyle practices prior to and during pregnancy. More often than not there will likely be a natural progression from easy pregnancy to comfortable birth to comfortable babymooning (the new parenting experience).
- New mothers need a good support network. They need a supportive but not ‘authoritarian’ partner, like-minded friends, and loving family that also support her parenting wishes. A woman who has had the most perfect birth experience ever will also need to debrief. This debriefing can also be critical to how she copes in those early weeks.
- Sleep is vital. In the early weeks, a mother should be encouraged to sleep when baby sleeps to compensate for any deficit during night feeds. When co-sleeping oftentimes a mother is still able to ‘twilight sleep’ during feeds. Again, a good support network is vital here for helping care with other children. New mothers and young families are designed for tribal life not living in isolation.
- While pregnancy and birth require extra calorie/fuel requirements, breastfeeding mothers require almost double. I have posted about my personal experience with breastfeeding and needing around 4000 cals/day to thrive. This is really important because you are burning calories as you make milk and as breastfeeding is based on supply and demand this will change in relation to the needs of your child.
- Adopt a low fat raw vegan diet and follow a natural hygiene based lifestyle. This is the most optimal lifestyle for anyone but ESPECIALLY for women during the childbearing year. This will give your body and your baby the most optimal nutrient intake and set you both on the path for wellness for the rest of your parenting life and your child’s life. This way of living will reduce the toxaemic load that accumulates from ingesting chemicals, damaging grains, and toxic animal products to name but a few. Again, I must reiterate that you eat as much as you care for on this diet. A frugivore lifestyle isn’t about restriction, it’s about abundance. Getting most of your calories from sweet juicy fruit will allow you to feel a fruitfulness of your spirit that can only be conducive to conscious parenting and childrearing.