Pregnancy is beautiful, filled with hope, expectation and joy, and also hard at the same time. Expectant parents look forward to birth to meet their little bundle, to start fulfilling the dreams they have for their family, and maybe, for momma, the resulting relief of delivering the baby she’s carried for 40 weeks. Throughout pregnancy you’ve been preparing for and dreaming about this little one, excited for the day they finally come. The family is ready to meet the newest member, the nursery is prepared, all that’s left is for the actual birth.
And then it comes, and a new kind of ‘hard’ crashes over you like a wave. Sure, you’re no longer carrying another human within your own body, but you may not feel the relief you expected, either.
Some women, and their family’s expect life to go back to how it was before, with the caveat that you now have a new little one on the journey with you. That’s not entirely true. Everything doesn’t just naturally go back to the way it was after you give birth. Sometimes, your body needs a little extra help. This can show itself in postpartum depression.
What is Postpartum Depression?
The United Brain Organization explains postpartum like this:
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that affects women soon after they give birth, and in some cases, the condition can set in even during pregnancy. The disorder is characterized by anxiety, sadness, sleep difficulties, fatigue, or other signs of a low mood. The symptoms are so severe that they interfere with the mother’s daily functioning and her ability to care for her child, and the symptoms persist for an extended time. The symptoms differ in their severity and duration from common and normal postpartum mood swings. … The most common symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Feelings of extreme sadness, pessimism, or emotional disengagement
- Feelings of anxiety or fear without a specific cause
- Rapid changes in mood
- Outbursts of anger or frustration
- Disruptions in sleep habits, including oversleeping or insomnia (even when the baby is sleeping)
- Changes in appetite, including overeating or not eating enough
- Headaches or other aches and pains without specific causes
- Fatigue or restlessness
- Mental fogginess or difficulty focusing
- Loss of enjoyment from activities that used to be pleasurable
- Avoidance of social situations or family activities
- Fears about the ability to care for the baby
- Lack of emotional attachment to the baby
- Thoughts of suicide or of harming the baby
- While this can be a daunting list to look at, most of these symptoms line up with signs of inflammation or hormone imbalance.
Inflammation and Postpartum Depression
Cleveland Clinic explains inflammation like this:
When your body encounters an offending agent (like viruses, bacteria or toxic chemicals) or suffers an injury, it activates your immune system. Your immune system sends out its first responders: inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells).
These cells begin an inflammatory response to trap bacteria and other offending agents or start healing injured tissue. The result can be pain, swelling, bruising or redness. But inflammation also affects body systems you can’t see.
As stated in that quote, inflammation can be caused by things like viruses, bacteria, or toxic chemicals. It can also be caused by physical stressors. Things like working out too hard, getting into a car crash, or pushing a baby out of your body. Giving birth puts a lot of stress on your body. Inflammation can cause a lot more than just swelling and redness. It can also cause things like depression, fatigue, and more.
What Else can Cause Inflammation?
When a woman is breastfeeding a baby, the way she is sitting or holding herself can put extra stress on her body. If Baby will only eat from one side, that can cause the body uneven stress; with one side having far more than the other.
When a woman is pregnant, they gradually start carrying more and more weight. This can cause stress on the body due to a necessary change of posture. When a woman gives birth, her weight and, therefore, the way she carries that weight, changes suddenly.
Taking in allergens will also result in inflammation. Allergies change both during and after pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, her body and the baby’s body will work together. This includes their immune systems, meaning Momma’s has to adjust. After birth, too, Momma’s immune system readjusts to working on its own. She’s no longer supporting an entirely unique individual; it’s once again just herself. This takes just as much readjustment as when she gets pregnant in the first place. This easily results in different allergies before, during, and after pregnancy. Allergic reactions come in multiple different forms, and not all of them are easily linked to an allergic reaction in our minds.
How do I Address Inflammation?
If you’ve been reading our articles for any length of time, you know the human body is like a Swiss watch–it’s very finely calibrated. If a gear is out of alignment, the watch won’t function properly. The same is true for our bodies. Help relieve the physical stressors on your body by getting adjusted by a chiropractor and making sure everything is in the correct alignment to function well.
Get your allergies tested. Until you get them back–and even after–avoid foods like processed sugar, dairy, the dirty dozen, GMOs, dyes, and naturally inflammatory foods. In the same vein, Cleveland Clinic was right that toxic chemicals will cause inflammation. Many of our everyday products have hidden toxins in them, or things that will at least exacerbate the inflammation already present. Check your makeup, hair products, shampoo, cleaning supplies, lotions, nail polish, deodorant, laundry detergent, and even liquors for toxins. The quality of your air or water could also be the culprit.
Hormone Imbalances and Postpartum
Hormones are the messengers that tell your body what to do, how much of it to do, and when to do whatever it is the body needs done. If your hormones are out of balance, normal processes or organs will either be overactive, or under active. Either way, this means your body won’t be functioning properly. This can cause havoc in the body, and–when you’re a nursing mother–can also cause issues for Baby.
The NIH puts it this way:
“Core hormonal physiology principles reveal profound interconnections between mothers and babies, among hormone systems, and from pregnancy through to the postpartum and newborn periods. Overall, consistent and coherent evidence from physiologic understandings and human and animal studies finds that the innate hormonal physiology of childbearing has significant benefits for mothers and babies. Such hormonally-mediated benefits may extend into the future through optimization of breastfeeding and maternal-infant attachment. A growing body of research finds that common maternity care interventions may disturb hormonal processes, reduce their benefits, and create new challenges. … Contemporary childbearing has benefitted from many medical advances, and from highly skilled and committed maternity care providers, especially for mothers and babies who require special care. However, current high rates of maternity care interventions may be disadvantageous for the healthy majority. Common maternity care practices and interventions can impact the hormonal physiology of mother and baby, according to physiologic understandings and human and animal studies. Impacts on hormonal physiology and consequences for mother and/or baby may occur in the perinatal period or beyond.”
When you give birth, there are a lot of hormones fluctuating and adjusting to support the functions of childbirth and life after. If they don’t all settle back into normal homeostasis, you’re left with imbalanced hormones. This is when finding the right support is crucial. Hormones impact every part of life, including breastfeeding. It is crucial for both Momma and Baby to have proper, comprehensive hormone testing and support.
What Else can Cause Hormone Imbalances?
Endocrine disruptors are defined by the NIH as follows:
Many chemicals, both natural and man-made, may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system. Called endocrine disruptors, these chemicals are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems.
Endocrine disruptors are found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.
There are multiple ways you could come into contact with endocrine disruptors in your everyday life. If a woman was on birth control before getting pregnant and giving birth, that could be the issue. Birth control can cause issues with hormone imbalances for far longer than most women expect.
There are also endocrine disruptors in things like soy, dryer sheets, plastic cookware, other hidden sources of plastic, canned foods, vaccines, and unfiltered water. Unethically sourced meat and eggs can also be sources of foreign hormones that will cause an imbalance.
Thoughts and Postpartum
So many mommas like to talk about how happy they are after birth, despite being exhausted. But not every woman naturally feels that way, when all is said and done. And that can bring with it a lot of guilt. Especially when nothing seems to be wrong with Momma or Baby. But that doesn’t help when you just… don’t feel as happy as you feel like you should.
It can be very easy and insensitive to tell people ‘just be happy,’ or ‘just get over it,’ when they’re struggling with depression or a lack of happiness. It’s not as easy as that, but there is an element of mind over matter when it comes to health. When you’re stressed, your cortisol spikes. Not only will that transfer from a nursing mother to a baby and cause the baby problems, but it will also impact Momma’s hormones.
A lot of hormones are made from progesterone, including cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone. When you’re stressed over anything–from a housefire to a looming deadline–cortisol is demanded. Progesterone impacts many parts of the body, including the brain and heart. It also has calming effects on the body.
Women in Balance puts it this way:
Progesterone naturally metabolizes in brain tissues to the metabolite allopregnanolone, which is known to produce calming, anti-anxiety and possibly enhanced memory effects.
When cortisol is demanded, there’s less progesterone to impact the other organs it’s responsible to help. Your body will also get less of the calming effects of progesterone, only heightening the stress.
How do I Address My Thoughts?
Studies done by the NIH and Taylor & Francis Online have shown that having a practice of gratitude improves mood and overall mental health. Start your own by writing down ten things you’re grateful for at the end of the day. Write a letter to someone you’re grateful to or for, even if you never send it, they’re no longer in your life, or you don’t know how to contact them. Whenever you’re getting stressed or frustrated, try to think of something you’re grateful for. Set an alarm for every so often–every two hours, every fifteen minutes, somewhere in between–and take a moment to reflect. What’s something you can be grateful for in this moment? Even if it’s the simple fact that you’re able to breathe air, name something you’re grateful for.
Life after giving birth isn’t easy. It can be downright difficult. Whether it’s just baby blues, or outright postpartum depression, life can seem much harder than Momma may have been expecting. Cut the allergens, toxins, and endocrine disruptors from your daily life. Start a gratitude habit, remembering that baby steps toward something good are just as fine for you as they are for your little one. To get your hormones tested, learn about other endocrine disruptors, or get adjusted, contact a Wellness Way clinic, today!