After the birth of your child your hormones are crashing from the pregnancy high they were on. Some women get headaches, some women feel a little sad for 3 days, some women feel panicked and neurotic, some women go into a depression, some women go into psychosis. Kind of scary isn’t it? Let's talk more about postpartum anxiety, how to recognize it, what to do for someone who has it, and herbs that may help.
I’m sure in all your baby books all they talked about was PPD or postpartum depression. Which it’s amazing how far we’ve come that PPD is getting the recognition it is! I remember after I had my child even my son’s pediatrician was asking me how I was doing. Personally, I didn’t know how to answer that. Overwhelmed, panicked, like I want to break out of my skin, like I don’t know who I am, like my baby hates me? There was no good answer. Just not depressed. So I, like many women, just said “No, I’m doing great!”
I had never heard of postpartum anxiety. But yet it affects up to 17% of postpartum mothers according to a study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders,
“included a group of 310 pregnant Canadian women whom researchers screened for anxiety. They also conducted in-depth follow-up interviews with any women who met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder around three months after they gave birth. Nearly 16 percent of the mothers in the study had anxiety and anxiety-related disorders during pregnancy, while 17 percent experienced significant anxiety in the early postpartum period.”
Postpartum anxiety can feel like panic, like obsessive focus on something specific, constant worry, insomnia, and so many other things. Some women have panic attacks while others lay awake worrying. I’ve heard stories of mothers who were convinced their baby would not live through the night, every night. I’ve heard stories of mothers that were fearful to let anyone else but them hold their child. I’ve heard, and experienced, misplaced obsession. For me it was breastfeeding. It was where all of my energy, thoughts, and focus went. If I could breastfeed I would be a good mother. I was obsessed. There’s not just one symptom to check off to know what postpartum anxiety feels like. It can be triggered by hormones, birth trauma, sleep loss, or pre-existing anxiety.
If you know someone with postpartum anxiety please assure them they are not alone. Encourage them to talk to someone. Tell them that you’re there for them and do anything you can to lighten their load. Watch the baby while they shower, make them lunch, let them take a nap. If you know a mama with postpartum anxiety and they haven’t had a diagnosis, they may not know it exists. Be gentle with them but offer it to them as a reason, explain it’s not their fault. And know they will probably come to it on their own, when they’re ready.
If you think you have postpartum anxiety talk with someone! Find a trusted practitioner. Ask questions and research! Go after whatever modality you want: herbalism, counseling, psychiatry, medication, any way that would make you feel more you. And don’t feel guilty about asking for help. You will be a much better mama if you take care of yourself. Even though it’s hard to spend the time and money on anything but baby.
As far as herbs go, talking with a herbalist about what will work for your exact body type, constitution, and situation is ideal. But starting with gentle nervines to calm your nervous system like chamomile, lemon balm, and catnip. All completely safe for breastfeeding. These will help you settle without making you sleepy or affecting your milk supply. In some instances it may even increase your let down reflex once your nerves have relaxed. These simple, easy herbs may take the edge off enough for you to have patients with your family.
My absolute favorite herb for postpartum, or any hormonal related anxiety is motherwort. Motherwort is a gentle nervine that has been historically used to help with female hormonal issues including after having a child or for menopause. The latin name is leonurus cardiaca, literally meaning lion hearted. This herb traditionally has been used to help with anxiety that affects the heart. The shape of the herb looks like a spine, which is exactly what is does for me when I take it, give me back my backbone.
Other amazing herbs to consider are adaptogens. Especially if you’re tired and wired, can’t live without coffee, or feeling frayed all the time. Adaptogens help restore the nervous system to homeostasis. They can be taken for longer periods of time and take a little longer to work than some other herbs. I like to think of them as building herbs. Some of them can be helpful for your immune system too. For these I like to start with more gentle and non-stimulating herbs, especially with breastfeeding. It’s no fun with a stimulated infant at night!
My favorite adaptogenic herb to start with is holy basil, or tulsi. This herb even helps with milk production. You can drink it at any time of day, even before bed. It’s very calming, elevates your mood, and helps combat the constant exhaustion. If you feel a little depressed, this is your adaptogen.
The next herb I would consider would be ashwagandha. It can be added to smoothies, taken by capsules, tinctures or as a tea but it isn’t very tasty! I would take it in the morning as it can occasionally be stimulating. It is great for the immune system, nervous system, and is an anti-inflammatory.
Rhodiola is a great adaptogen for the brain. It is specifically for anxiety and chronic fatigue. It is also great for the immune system and mental fog. Think mom brain! This can be added to smoothies, taken by capsules, tinctures or as tea, but like ashwagandha, not very tasty! I also try to keep this herb earlier in the day.
There are so many more herbs that are so wonderful and amazing for mothers and for anxiety. The herbs mentioned can be used for anyone with anxiety, just check with your health practitioner or herbalist before starting an herbal regimen.
And remember, if we don’t talk about what is going on with us it just gets worse. There’s another mama out there that could benefit from your story, one who thinks she is all alone and is the worst mama ever. Help her and help you.
Here are some helpful links:
http://www.postpartumprogress.com/ - for more information
http://www.crisisnetwork.org/contact/ - for someone to talk to, the warm line in your area