How to Beat the Baby Blues
Depression during pregnancy and in the postpartum period occurs quite frequently. During pregnancy, a woman’s hormones are in a very different state of balance, with about 100 times the estrogen and 10 times the progesterone of a non-pregnant woman. These are the hormones that cause premenstrual mood swings and bring to mind the image of the hysterical pregnant woman that resounds through our culture–now she’s laughing, now crying, now raging mad; look out! The changes take some getting used to. It’s good to keep in mind that they are helping our bodies become the perfect environment for growing and raising a strong, healthy baby. Postpartum, these hormones suddenly swing back towards where they used to be, unsettling us once again. Almost every woman has at least a mild case of “baby blues” and finds herself crying easily or without reason. Having a new baby can be overwhelming and difficult to prepare for. Also, due to the collapse of the extended family structure, women find themselves without much support. Others often focus on the newborn baby to the exclusion of the mother. This shift in attention can be a bewildering and difficult transition for some. In addition, most new moms aren’t getting enough sleep and may be struggling with other issues, such as difficulty breastfeeding and relationship stress.
More and more data suggests that the less we rely on pharmaceutical solutions for issues during pregnancy, the better. Pharmaceuticals always carry the risk of side effects. Many drugs used during pregnancy have never actually been tested for their safety during pregnancy and are given out based on “expert opinion.” Why no testing? Since it’s unethical to test drugs on pregnant women, no one designs the tests. Yet pregnant women are given drugs with the hope that nothing will go wrong. Much of the time, nothing does. However, the track record does have some disturbing moments: DES and thalidomide, once commonly given to respectively prevent miscarriage and treat morning sickness, both caused horrible birth defects. Thalidomide babies suffered malformed limbs that often resembled flippers. DES babies suffered malformations of their reproductive tracts, effects which have even been shown to pass on to the grandchildren of women who took it.
There has been recent research on the use of antidepressants during pregnancy which shows that newborn babies suffer withdrawal symptoms and side effects including agitation, altered muscle tone, and breathing and suction problems. There is also evidence that these effects can occur through breastmilk transfer. The side effects are not just of concern for our babies, but for ourselves. Depression has a varying range of severity and may require differing levels of treatment. The more we learn, the more desirable non-drug methods of treatment become in less severe cases. This may include personal therapy, support groups, yoga, exercise, massage, and acupuncture and Chinese herbs. A recent study found at least a 50% reduction in depression to be almost 20% higher when treated with acupuncture alone versus a sham treatment or massage.
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