Did you know that up to 2 out of every 10 women will develop a thyroid disorder after pregnancy! That’s HUGE! Thyroid health is essential for so many processes within the body, including regulation of mood! Depression is one of THE top symptoms accompanying low thyroid function, thus, low thyroid or post-partum thyroiditis can mimic postpartum depression. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include a drop in milk supply, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, muscle weakness/achiness, increased sensitivity to cold, fatigue, puffy face, and hoarseness.
You thought the pregnancy hormones were a rough ride, wait until post-partum hits. The postpartum hormone drop is considered the single largest hormone change in the shortest amount of time for any human being, at any point of their life cycle. You can liken it to the shift that occurs during to your period x 100! That’s some hefty PMS (hence why we cry more than our babies on that 3rd day post-partum). If you are breastfeeding, your hormone problems don’t stop after birth. Prolactin (the hormone that signals milk production) further suppresses your hormones until you wean your child. Some women don’t struggle with emotions UNTIL they begin to wean and cycle normally again. Why? Well this can be likened to going to puberty. All of a sudden, the brakes are taken off your hypothalamus, and your hormones begin to increase back to normal levels. Hang in there, mama!
Prolactin and Emotions:
Prolactin is our “breast feeding hormone.” It not only signals milk production, but research shows that it also regulates stress at the level of the hippocampus! High prolactin levels have been associated with increased stress resilience and less likelihood of developing post-partum depression. Alright, so that’s the “good.” Unfortunately, prolactin has some downsides for some. Females with high prolactin have also been found to have more symptoms of anxiety and hostility. So ladies, remind your husband that you are NOT crazy. you are just breastfeeding!
The two minerals deficiencies MOST relevant to postpartum depression are iron and zinc. Iron deficiency anemias are EXTREMELY common amongst postpartum women, as there is often a considerable amount of blood-loss during birth. Research shows that low ferritin (the storage form of iron) detected immediately after delivery were associated with a 273% increased risk of postpartum depression! Zinc deficiency is ALSO very common. Zinc competes for absorption with copper, and maternal levels of copper rise during pregnancy, as it is essential for the production of several KEY organs and body parts in baby. Unfortunately, zinc is a cofactor for MANY key enzymes associated with neurotransmitter production and metabolism. This copper overload/ zinc deficiency pictures has been STRONGLY connected to postpartum depression, and zinc supplementation CAN be a lifesaver for many.
Lack of Sleep.
We mamas know we are sleep deprived. Research shows that lack of sleep has a profound impact on mental emotional health. This is partially due to increased activation of the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls our immediate emotional responses. Thus, lack of sleep causes us to be more reactive to an emotional trigger, leaving us more irritable and reactionary than typical.
Essential Fatty Acids (specifically DHA) are important factors in brain/nervous system development and mood regulation. During pregnancy, the requirement for DHA increases dramatically, as baby requires this nutrient for proper development. If mom’s diet is insufficient, baby takes preference, stealing mom’s DHEA from storage within the brain. This alone can lead to pregnancy brain, mom brain, and postpartum depression.
Inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system) have been shown to be elevated in women struggling with postpartum depression. The elevation of cytokines is an inflammatory response, and can occur due to a variety of reasons, including: birth trauma, poor gut health, autoimmunity, psychological stressors, and more! Breastfeeding has been shown to attenuate inflammatory cytokine levels, thus, helping reduce the changes of inflammatory mediated postpartum depression.
Poor Gut Health:
Hormonal shifts during pregnancy result in inflammatory and immune changes that alter the gut microbiome. These changes within the microbiome insure that mama gains the appropriate weight and has optimal nutrient absorption to support the pregnancy. Unfortunately, these changes can also make mothers more susceptible to infections, troubles with high blood sugar, and postpartum depression.
We’ve come to know that low cholesterol is a BIG risk factor for depression. In my practice, I don’t like to see total cholesterol under 150. In the brain, cholesterol functions as an antioxidant, provides insulation, contributes to the cell-membrane barrier (preventing the entry of toxins), and plays a role in the appropriate firing of neurotransmitters at the nerve cell synapses.