From time to time I get calls from new mothers wanting to know if acupuncture can help with their postpartum depression. I’m always glad to field those calls, because frequently women suffering from postpartum depression tend to suffer in silence. Whether they think it’s just temporary or they’re just too tired or overwhelmed to do anything about it, it’s unfortunate that many new moms don’t get the help they need early on.
Sometimes called the Baby Blues, postpartum depression may appear as a group of symptoms that includefeelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia. Over time those symptoms may morph into severe anxiety, extreme sadness, flushing or night sweats, irritability, and impatience.
In Chinese medicine, the source of postpartum depression is depletion. New moms are wiped out from their recent labor and delivery, lack of sleep, and feeling overwhelmed with having a new baby in the house. Many women and health care providers don’t acknowledge that giving birth, whether through a vaginal delivery or Caesarian section, can cause severe physical depletion. Not only is childbirth a physical challenge, but a great deal of blood is lost in the process. In most cases, women aren’t allowed to sufficiently recover because they are plunged right into sleepless nights, diaper changes, and regular feedings. While postpartum depression is considered to affect new mothers, women may stuggle with it for many months after giving birth, and for some, even longer.
In Western medicine, postpartum depression is considered to be hormonal in nature. However, in Chinese medicine, the cause is related to physical depletion, usually from strain and blood loss during labor and delivery. This depletion is called Blood Deficiency, and while not exactly anemia, it means that the nourishing quality of your blood has been compromised. Both in Western and Chinese medicine, your blood carries all the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and strong. However, there’s more. In Chinese medicine Blood Deficiency or depletion also affects your Heart system, which the Chinese consider to be the home to your thoughts, emotions, memories, and soul. It’s the depletion of your Heart that is really the underlying cause of postpartum depression according to Chinese medical theory.
So, back to the original question, can acupuncture and Chinese medicine help with postpartum depression? The answer is yes, in most cases. And it’s a good drug-free option for nursing mothers who don’t want to take antidepressant medications. Treatment involves building up the Heart system and nourishing Blood. This is done through a combination of acupuncture, diet, and when possible, Chinese herbs. For some women who are deeply depleted, treatment can take a month or two, but it has been my experience that some women begin to bounce back quickly and need only a few sessions along with some dietary tweaks.
If you or someone you know is a new mom and struggling with depression, get some help. In many cases, it doesn’t take much to begin feeling right again. And think about acupuncture; it’s gentle, safe, effective, and drug-free.