After nine long months of preparation, the baby has finally arrived—along with some unexpected chaos! Between feedings, diaper changes, hugs and bath time, it’s easy for new mothers to get overwhelmed. Moms, be sure you’re taking care of yourself and your little one from a nutritional standpoint, especially if you’re feeling a little down or are having trouble nursing.
Beating the Baby Blues
Strong emotions associated with the arrival of a baby (excitement, fear and anxiety) can trigger something you didn’t intend: a postpartum mood disorder. This is marked by prolonged periods of sadness occurring during the first year after giving birth (1). Postpartum mood disorders can be as minor as the blues or as problematic as depression.
Women, if you’re feeling down after giving birth, don’t feel you’re alone. Nearly 13% of pregnant women and new mothers experience this form of depression (2). This means that one out of every 10 women are faced with postpartum depression during the first months following childbirth. Other possible explanations for depression during and after the baby arrives include an increase in estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy. In fact, in the first 24 hours after childbirth, these hormone levels quickly return to normal. Another reason why postpartum depression may occur is that levels of thyroid hormones plummet after childbirth, which researchers believe could be a major cause of feelings of depression in new mothers (2).
Some experts feel that postpartum depression may also be linked to nutrition. Not getting enough of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, could be a cause. DHA may help those who already have postpartum depression, too. David Kyle, Ph.D., the U.S. director of the Mother and Child Foundation, makes this claim. As a speaker at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society, Kyle noted, “We believe that the high incidence of postpartum depression in the United States may be triggered by a low dietary intake of DHA.” Kyle added that DHA levels consumed by American women tend to be lower than women living in other places throughout the world (3).
If you feel you could be depressed, talk to your healthcare provider immediately. And, check with him or her before taking omega-3 supplements.
The decision of whether or not to breastfeed is a very personal one. Women who choose this route often receive much joy from bonding with her newborn—as well as her fair share of frustrations from soreness or an inadequate milk supply. Women experiencing these symptoms should consult a medical professional or a lactation specialist, first and foremost. But, they should also be aware that several plant-based products can offer some benefits. It should be stressed, however, that women should only try these techniques after discussing them with their healthcare providers first.
For example, some lactation specialists believe fenugreek can help women who are not making enough breast milk for their babies. Kathleen Huggins, the former director of the breastfeeding clinic at San Luis Obispo General Hospital, CA, stated that her clinic has used the herb to treat more than 1,000 women whose milk production was found to be too low. She noted that women who took two or three doses of fenugreek (580 or 610 mg each) experienced an increase in milk supply within one to three days, and often were able to discontinue the supplement’s use thereafter (4). In 2000, 10 women participated in a study to measure the effect of fenugreek on breast milk production. After taking fenugreek for a week, the average amount of breast milk produced jumped from 207 to 464 ml (5).
Huggins said that few women in her experience reported adverse effects from taking the herb.
Milk thistle, goat’s rue and fennel are also said to promote lactation, according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (6).
Another common problem among lactating women is breast soreness from cracked skin. A 2007 article indicated that using peppermint water, traditionally used in Iran for this purpose, can help. Researchers followed 196 lactating women for two weeks, and found reduced pain and cracking in those who applied a premeasured amount of peppermint water after each feeding (7). Again, the authors note that “herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine” (7).
Other natural soothing creams on the market for soreness include nutrients like vitamin E, calendula, chamomile and others.
All women who breastfeed should make sure they are supplementing with calcium/vitamin D (for healthy bones and teeth), omega-3 DHA (helps with the baby’s neural development) and a good multivitamin. WF
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Feb. 2010