By: Natalie Telyatnikov
Epidemic levels of postpartum depression, anxiety, and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS) and the global maternal mortality crisis, especially among women of color, are serious problems. But while these crises are systemic, there are steps that can be taken to address them. What mothers need is better postpartum care and support.
The reality is that over half of all maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period, and a startling 60% are considered to be preventable. Specifically, helping women recognize and remedy the signs and symptoms of postpartum health issues and PMADs is an important step to eradicate these issues.
To understand this fully, we must look to the study of ‘psychoneuroimmunology,’ which is the science of how mental, emotional, and physical health are interconnected. It proves, for example, how poor physical health can cause poor mental and emotional health, and vice versa. This science illustrates that women are far less likely to feel depressed and/or anxious if they are not suffering physically after birth. Which is why proper holistic postpartum care practices can help prevent or alleviate both susceptibility to PMADs, and vulnerability to maternal morbidity/mortality. Here are a few suggested steps to support women postpartum:
- Debrief the Birth. Encountering any physiologic ‘interruption’ during the birthing process, such as the use of drugs, having a traumatic birth, or a birth that did not go as planned, can interrupt a woman’s natural oxytocin (“love hormone”) production. This lack of natural oxytocin can cause depression, anxiety, and delayed milk production. Recognizing that these interruptions can cause postpartum challenges is critical. So is getting support, whether it be by speaking with a therapist, or a certified Birth Story Listener, or by attending a support group, to emotionally ‘process’ the birth.
- Don’t Assume Exhaustion is “Okay.” Having less sleep is to be expected, but dealing with excessive amounts of sleep deprivation postpartum is a serious issue that can cause mood and anxiety disorders; worsen hormonal imbalances; lower the immune system; and cause ‘adrenal burnout’ or other chronic health issues, such as insomnia and autoimmune disorders. Women should not be afraid to ask for help from their support system. Introducing certain dietary restrictions that improve gut health and lower inflammation, such as avoiding gluten, dairy, and refined sugars, and promoting balanced gut health with probiotics may also help balance your system.
- Heal The Body. Proper hydration, in tandem with eating traditionally healing postpartum foods that are easy to digest and warm in temperature, not only help ward off and fight infections, but also, help to restore lost blood volume, and assist in the production of breast milk. Spending as much time as possible resting is also advised to heal stretched uterine ligaments, and to ensure that postpartum bleeding does not worsen, organ prolapse is prevented, and pelvic floor issues are kept at bay.
What is most encouraging as we pursue a better postpartum for all mothers, is that even in communities with limited resources, mothers who are simply informed about their own postpartum health, are much more likely to avoid PMADs altogether, or experience them with a shorter duration, and less intensity, should they arise. Empowering women in this way will protect the lives of mothers and provide them the most successful possible start to motherhood.
About The Author:
Having survived a “near miss” like many moms (up to 3 in 5) and postpartum depression (about 1 in 9) after the birth of her first son, Natalie Telyatnikov launched Better Postpartum, the online education platform to holistically address postpartum care. Natalie is a trained doula, parental educator, support specialist, and certified postpartum care practitioner, and is schooled in Innate Traditions of Postpartum Care and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and Components of Care through Postpartum Support International, the global leading authority on postpartum depression.