How to Help Manage Postpartum Anxiety Using Foods, Vitamins and Herbs
In my last post we went over what the symptoms of postpartum anxiety are and what factors make someone more likely to suffer from it. In today’s post I am going to discuss ways to help manage postpartum anxiety naturally. As you have seen, anxiety can have multiple different causes and present in many different ways, making the proper treatment of anxiety very individualized. You should always consult with a naturopathic doctor before starting any vitamin/mineral or herbal regime to insure that you are taking safe and therapeutic doses, there are no interactions with any other supplements or medications that you may be taking, and that what you are taking is safe while breast feeding. Just because something is natural, does not automatically mean that it is safe.
It was discussed that increased cortisol was one of the major physiological factors for postpartum anxiety. As you will see, many of the suggestions are aimed at normalizing cortisol levels
What you are eating on a daily basis is the single biggest factor in helping to manage your anxiety.
- Blood Sugar Regulation- when blood sugar is going up and down and not remaining stable it can cause symptoms of anxiety (racing heart, palpitations, dizziness, nausea). Eating too many carbs and sugar without enough protein and fat can put your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. Remember to eat regularly and to have healthy proteins and fats at every meal. The body sees this up and down in blood sugar as a physiological stress and it causes cortisol to increase further
- Coffee- too much coffee, more than 2 cups a day, can have negative impact on both blood sugar regulation and cortisol, leaving you feeling jittery, increasing heart rate, and creating sleeping problems. Coffee should only be consumed before noon
- Green Tea- I get it, you need some caffeine!! Try substituting some of that coffee for green tea. Green tea also contains caffeine, but it also is high in theanine, which helps lower cortisol
- Fruits and Vegetables- eating a wide variety helps to correct nutrient deficiencies
- Making time for me time- Even if is it only 10 min/day. Find small segments of time to do what you enjoy
- Get Outside- Many studies have shown that mood is lifted and anxiety is decreased with exposure to fresh air. Bonus, it can also make you and your baby sleep better
- Get Moving- Exercise releases endorphins which naturally make you feel better and less anxious…but don’t over do it. Too much exercise can increase cortisol. Aim for 30 min of moderate exercise (walking, yoga, strength training) 3-5 days a week.
- Breathe- Deep breathing physiologically lowers cortisol, and it’s easy to do! When you are feeling anxious try taking 10 deep breaths where your belly moves out and your chest stays in
- Get Help- If you do not have family or friends around who are helpful and supportive consider hiring a postpartum doula
- No Coffee After Noon. Coffee has a half-life (how long it takes half of it to leave your system) of up to 12 hours so that coffee you drank at noon can be keeping you up at midnight
- Keep Your Room Cool and Dark- helps you get a deeper sleep
- Embrace Naps
- Keep Lights Dim When Up During the Night. Cortisol and the sleep hormone melatonin work opposite to each other. At night cortisol should be low and melatonin should be high. Exposure to light at night can throw off this balance
- Hormonal Balance
Managing cortisol levels allow for more pregnenolone (the precursor hormone) to be available for the production of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA. Cortisol also has a love hate relationship with oxytocin. Oxytocin one of the hormones that controls lactation and is necessary for proper bonding. When cortisol is high, it causes oxytocin to be lower. So how can we manage cortisol levels?
- Magnesium and Vitamin B6- these two nutrients help take pregnenolone (precursor hormone) and get it to make progesterone instead of cortisol.
- Ashwaganda- increases dopamine (a feel good hormone that helps support lactation) receptors in the brain while reducing the anxiety producing effects of norepinephrine. It is also an Adaptogenic herb, which helps combat the effects of stress
- Nettle- high in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Helps support thyroid function and the adrenal glands
- Passionflower- helps to lower cortisol, reduce anxiety and increase GABA
- GABA- is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It helps to calm the excitement of the nervous system (the fight or flight response) and helps reduce cortisol
- Acupuncture- has a calming effect on the nervous system, has been shown to reduce cortisol and can help with hormonal balance
- Nutrient Deficiencies
Your pregnancy has most likely left you with a few key nutrient deficiencies.
- Vitamin B6- The birth control pill is well known to deplete vitamin B6. If you were on the pill prior to conception you have a high risk of being deficient. Another symptom of deficiency is morning sickness. If you experienced this it is also quite probable that you are deficient
- Magnesium- Magnesium is involved in over 300 reactions in the body and gets used up more rapidly when you are under stress. Magnesium can help reduce anxiety symptoms and help you sleep better
- Vitamin D- If you live in a climate with 4 seasons, the sun is not at a proper angle for you to make vitamin D via the skin from Oct-May. Deficiency can have a negative impact on mood
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids- Help reduce cortisol levels, increase mood, and are great for babies brain development
There have been studies showing supplementation with a good quality multivitamin helps improve psychological wellbeing. In my practice, I generally recommend that moms either continue taking their prenatal vitamin or a good quality multivitamin for 3-4 months postpartum, or 3-4 months after weaning, which ever comes first.
As I said previously, these are general suggestions for ways to help manage anxiety naturally. All supplementation should be monitored by your Naturopathic Doctor to make sure they are being used in a safe and effective manner.
I hope you found those suggestions helpful. Have you had something help your anxiety? Please post it in the comments below
Dr Alexis practicesvia telemedicine and is accepting new patients who live in Ontario. To book your appointment click here.
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