Postpartum Depression: How Acupuncture Can Help

Young woman suffering from postpartum depressionOne of the things I wish we talked about more openly is that many women struggle with postpartum depression. It is common. I hope that we can all agree that there is no shame in experiencing it. There are many ways to get help with postpartum depression.

In acupuncture, there are a few indicators pre-delivery that could signal an increased risk for postpartum depression. If certain things occur during the birth, a mother will again be more likely to experience postpartum depression. Overall, postpartum depression is mostly related to fatigue in a system or deficiency of blood, or blood and qi. We mostly have to work at strengthening the body with acupuncture, strategic food use, and sometimes herbs.

Pre Delivery indicators:

Typically, indicators for a higher risk of postpartum depression pre delivery relate to one of three main areas.

1) Blood deficiency symptoms pre-pregnancy. Symptoms of pre-pregnancy blood deficiency are anemia, difficulty falling asleep, heavy menstrual cycle, possible feelings of anxiety or depression.

2) Difficulty eating enough food throughout your pregnancy. If you struggle with morning sickness throughout the pregnancy, it makes it difficult to eat enough each day. When a pregnant woman doesn’t get enough calories and nutrients in a day, your body will opt to protect the pregnancy at all cost and feed the baby from many of your reserves. We can tolerate this for a few days or weeks, as long as we can eat quality food soon afterwards. However, with long term morning sickness, it ends up depleting the mother significantly more than a pregnancy that only had morning sickness in the first trimester.

The same holds true for mothers that simply struggle to eat enough calories in general, or struggle to eat enough whole foods throughout their pregnancy. Remember it is important to get about 340 extra calories from whole foods in the 2nd trimester, and 450 extra calories from whole foods in the 3rd trimester. You often don’t need any extra calorie during the first trimester. If you aim to get most of your calories from a combination of vegetables, whole grains, dairy, nuts, animal or vegetable protein that is minimally processed, you typically don’t need to worry about getting enough nutrients. If your cravings keep you going back to refined, processed foods like pastries, pasta, and mostly simple carbohydrates, you may be missing many of the nutrients you and your baby need to build adequate qi and blood for both of you. This will mimic the above example of struggling to eat, and your body will deplete your (the mother’s) qi and blood reserves to make sure the baby has the best stuff to grow from.

3) If this is not the first pregnancy, history of postpartum depression, complications with previous delivery, can be indicators.  For multiple pregnancies, a history of postpartum depression can indicate a higher risk for future postpartum depression, especially if there was a larger amount of blood loss during previous deliveries. It is always useful to mention a history of postpartum depression when working with an acupuncturist.

What to do:

Your acupuncturist can check your pulses throughout your prenatal care to determine if you run the risk of developing postpartum depression from pre-delivery causes. They will then help create a strategy with nutrition, acupuncture, and herbs to avoid postpartum depression from developing, or to help you recover from it more quickly.

You can read our general guidelines for Postpartum Nutrition here. 

Delivery Complications That relate to Postpartum Depression

Delivery can be unpredictable and certain experiences during delivery can set your body up to have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

1) More than average blood loss. Every birth involves a certain amount of blood loss, however if you have a higher than average amount of blood loss, then you will be more at risk of developing postpartum depression.

2) Uterine infection post-delivery. Internal infection requires that your body that is already fatigued from growing a small human, and giving birth to continue to expend resources to fight off the infection. Essentially, this adds a few more miles to your already completed marathon, and will deplete your body as it fights off infection.

What to do:

In the case of both above average blood loss and uterine infection, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition will play a large role in helping your body recover from the extra workload that your body had to complete. We have points that help generate blood, build energy, and strengthen the systems involved in gestation and birth. If you only experienced above average blood loss, a simple herbal formula to help your body generate blood, plus strengthening acupuncture, and some key components of postpartum nutrition will quickly give your body the energy it needs to focus on enjoying having your newborn in the world.

If you had infection, then herbs may have a slightly different goal of both strengthening the qi and blood of the body, but also aiding in fighting off infection or healing the tissues of the uterus post-antibiotic therapy.

For both, follow our Postpartum Nutrition guidelines here.

In conclusion, postpartum depression is common. It can also be predictable and treated with quick results using Chinese medicine paired with nutrition. Please don’t hesitate to contact an acupuncturist in your area if you are experiencing postpartum depression, or if you are concerned that you might after you give birth.


                                        e9e31c908af2e8b59f7a151efa47f28e                                                                                                          Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and help people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.
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