Are There Natural Remedies for Postpartum Depression?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PMHNP-BC on June 20, 2016Written by Ashley Marcin

Understanding postpartum depression

It’s common to experience what’s often referred to as the “baby blues” after giving birth. Your hormone levels go up and down after labor and delivery. These changes can trigger mood swings, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and more. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, you may have postpartum depression (PPD).

PPD affects around 1 out of every 7 women after giving birth. It’s usually much more intense than those initial baby blues. You may experience excessive crying episodes. You may find yourself withdrawing from friends and family or other social situations. You may even have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Other symptoms include:

  • difficulty bonding with your baby
  • severe mood swings
  • an extreme lack of energy
  • anger
  • irritability
  • difficulty making decisions
  • anxiety
  • panic attacks

Tell your partner or a close friend if you’re having these symptoms. From there, you can make an appointment with your doctor to talk about treatment options. PPD can last for many months if you don’t get treatment for it, making it difficult to take care of yourself and your baby.

Can natural remedies help?

Once you’ve seen your doctor, you may be wondering whether natural remedies can help your symptoms. Options exist, but PPD usually isn’t a condition that you can treat on your own. Tell your doctor about anything you take as part of your holistic treatment plan.

Vitamins

Omega-3 fatty acids are getting some attention among researchers as a possible help for PPD. In fact, a recent study has shown that low dietary intake of omega-3s is associated with developing this type of depression in the first place. Though more research is necessary, nutritional stores of omega-3s do get tapped quite a bit during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Try taking supplements and increasing intake of foods such as:

  • flax seeds
  • chia seeds
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • other oily fish

Riboflavin, or vitamin B-2, may also help decrease your risk of developing PPD. In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers examined this vitamin along with folate, cobalamin, and pyridoxine. Riboflavin was the only one they found to have a positive effect on the mood disorder. The researchers suggest moderate consumption for the best results.

Herbal supplements

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate herbal supplements, so you should be diligent when reading labels and check with your doctor before taking an herbal supplement.

St. John’s wort is commonly thought to treat depression. Evidence on whether this supplement is effective at treating PPD is mixed. It may or may not be safe to use this supplement while breast-feeding. It’s best not to take this supplement unless your doctor advises you to do so. More research is necessary to evaluate the benefits and risks.

What else can I try?

Several lifestyle changes may relieve your symptoms:

Take care of your body

Try taking long walks with your baby in a stroller or carrier. Pick up healthy, whole foods at the grocery store. Sleep when you can find the time and take naps to fill the gaps. You should also avoid alcohol and other drugs.

Take some time for yourself

When you have a baby, it can be easy to forget you need time to yourself. Make a habit of getting dressed, leaving the house, and running an errand or visiting a friend on your own.

Set realistic goals

The dishes and toys on the floor can wait. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Set some realistic expectations, and stick with getting those things crossed off your to-do list.

Talk about it

Avoid isolating yourself and keeping your feelings bottled up inside. Talk with your partner, a close friend, or a family member. If you don’t feel comfortable, consider joining a PPD support group. Your doctor may be able to point you to some local resources. You can also join online groups.

Can therapy help?

Talk therapy is another great option. It can give you an opportunity to sort out your thoughts and feelings with a trained mental health provider. You can work with your therapist to set goals and find ways to deal with the issues that are bothering you the most. Through talking about your PPD, you may find more positive ways to respond to daily situations and problems.

You may try interpersonal therapy alone or combine it with taking medications.

How is postpartum depression typically treated?

Antidepressants are often used to treat PPD. Two main types your doctor may prescribe include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

If you’re breast-feeding, you can work with your doctor to weigh the benefits and risks of taking medications. SSRIs, such as sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil), are considered the safest choices for breast-feeding mothers but are still secreted in breast milk.

Some doctors may also suggest estrogen. After birth, your estrogen levels drop rapidly and may contribute to PPD. Your doctor may suggest wearing an estrogen patch on your skin to help boost the decreased level of this hormone in your body. Your doctor can also advise you on whether this treatment is safe while breast-feeding.

Outlook

With treatment, PPD may go away within a six-month period. If you don’t get treatment or if you stop treatment too soon, the condition may relapse or turn into chronic depression. The first step is reaching out for help. Tell someone how you’re feeling.

If you do start treatment, don’t stop until well after you feel better. It’s important to maintain good communication with your doctor and to keep a close support network.

Learn more: Do men experience postpartum depression? »

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