Clinical dietitian and a PhD candidate in health promotion with concentration on maternal mental health and infant care.
With October being the mental health month, let’s talk about the importance of maternal mental health, especially during the postpartum period. The postpartum period is a transitional phase during which women go through many physical, social, and emotional changes that can put them at a high risk of developing depression and other psychological disorders.
What is postpartum depression?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, Postpartum depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood, loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances, lack of energy and feeling utterly tired, excessive anger and irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby.
If left unrecognized or untreated postpartum depression can result in serious negative consequences on the mother herself, her infant, and even the whole family.
There is no single factor that can be pinpointed as the cause of postpartum depression, as often it is a combination of several factors.
However, it is good to know that nutrition is a vital one! While it is true that postpartum depression affects a woman’s dietary habits, this relationship is also bidirectional…so in other words, a poor diet is also associated with postpartum depression.
Before I keep diving…Let me pause for a bit to reassure one important thing:
Every woman adjusts to motherhood differently, one might start focusing on her diet the moment she gives birth, the other might take her time to even think about it… and guess what? both moms are doing amazing.
As part of the postpartum recovery period, we don’t want you to put yourself under pressure, you have the full right to set your own pace and make gradual lifestyle changes accordingly.
key nutrients that can help prevent or mitigate the symptoms of postpartum depression:
Iron & Emotional Behaviour
Studies have shown that iron plays a role in brain regulation. Iron brain status influences emotional behaviors and mental health by altering the signaling of stress hormones and neurotransmitters.
Therefore, research suggested that iron-deficiency Anemia is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Food sources: Beef, liver, dark poultry meat, lamb, shrimp, dark leafy greens (like spinach), lentils, nuts, and whole grains.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D & Depression
There is a strong association between vitamin D and depression in the general population. However, recent studies also found that low levels of vitamin D significantly increase the risk of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy.
Food sources: Fortified dairy products, fortified cereals, egg yolks, and fatty fish (like salmon and tuna).
Zinc & Maternal depression
Zinc has been found to modulate the overall excitability of the brain through its influence on the uptake of serotonin – known as the happy hormone.
Lower zinc consumption was also reported to be associated with an increased prevalence of maternal depression.
Food sources: Oyster, red meat, poultry, whole-grain products. Hemp seeds, lentils, yoghurt, cashew, and dark chocolate.
Nutrition's impact on postpartum period & recovery
All of this demonstrates that we should not forget about nutrition, and it must always be considered as an integral part of our recovery during the postpartum period.
On a final note, if you are unsure whether you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or not, please do not hesitate to seek professional help.
Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE.