Postnatal Depression & Hormones
Giving birth and bringing a child into the world is a dramatic change in a mother’s life. While it is often a time of great excitement and happiness, many women do not get to enjoy those feelings and are instead affected by postnatal depression, a condition premeditated by the massive shift in hormones that occurs following birth.
Hormonal Changes That Occur After Giving Birth
Pregnancy itself is a time of significant hormone changes as the body grows a baby and shifts its focus to this goal.
Estrogen and progesterone are two hormones that increase immensely during the course of your pregnancy, and one of their jobs is to help create dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that help you to feel happy and calm. It is this dopamine and serotonin increase that causes many women to feel wonderful while pregnant; their body is flooded with feel-good hormones.
However, these hormones and neurotransmitters do not stick around forever.
Hormone Changes Immediately After Birth
Immediately following birth, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, and then as the days following birth pass, these levels continue to decrease.
To compensate for the decrease in estrogen and progesterone that occurs immediately after birth, oxytocin production increases exponentially. Oxytocin is considered the “love hormone” because it is most commonly produced when a mother looks at her baby, and it is this hormone that gives you that mothering instinct the moment you look at your baby.
However, over the days following birth, the levels of oxytocin drop down towards normal levels, which can contribute to some women feeling a disconnect with their baby or inadequacy with their parenting abilities.
Hormone Changes During the Postnatal Period
In the weeks following birth the positive post-birth hormones continue fading, and around the six-week mark, the symptoms of postnatal depression may start to show.
Hormones continue to adjust as the months following birth pass, and the new mother tries to form a routine with her baby. Around three months, the hormone cortisol, known as the stress hormone, often increases because of the stress associated with having a new baby. This can then contribute to a lack of sleep and many other problems.
Lack of sleep, both due to the hormone cortisol and the general responsibility of caring for a baby, can decrease the levels of melatonin and serotonin, which can negatively impact a mother’s mood.
Thankfully, postnatal women do not have to endure unbalanced hormones forever, and by six months, postnatal hormone levels are typically back to normal, and this is often when most women receive their first period.
Symptoms Of Postnatal Depression
When someone has recently given birth, those around them need to be aware of the signs of postnatal depression and be vigilant in looking after the new mother’s mental health.
Some of the symptoms of postnatal depression include:
- low energy
- sleep deprivation
- feelings of inadequacy when it comes to caring for the child
- feeling overwhelmed
- identity crisis
- low self-esteem
- decrease in personal hygiene
- low sex drive
Some of these symptoms, such as exhaustion, are expected from new parents because of the newborn’s sleep schedule, or lack thereof. However, when exhaustion persists despite getting some sleep or is accompanied by these other symptoms, the cause may be postnatal depression.
Treatment Of Postnatal Depression
There are a few treatment options for those with postnatal depression, some of which can be done at home and while others require a healthcare professional. The severity of a mother’s postnatal depression will play a significant role in whether professional guidance should immediately be sought.
Ask For Help
Asking for, and accepting help, is one of the biggest things that those with postnatal depression can do. However, it’s also one of the hardest.
Caring for a baby can be overwhelming, but letting those around you help shoulder some of the responsibilities helps a mother feel like her tasks are more manageable. There is also something immensely comforting in knowing that we do not have to do this alone.
Prioritizing Your Health
It can be all too easy for a new mother to let their health slip aside as their baby’s well-being becomes their sole concern, but it is essential to look after oneself, too, as the better care you take of yourself, the better you can care for your baby.
New mothers should prioritize daily exercise, with a walk around the neighborhood a great, gentle, and low-impact way to get the body moving. Not only does this get you out of the house, but it also helps produce endorphins, which can be a significant mood boost keeping the “baby blues” at bay. Exercise also helps use up the hormone cortisol, decreasing your stress levels and helping you sleep better at night.
Speaking of sleep, ensuring that you get as much sleep as you can helps keep your mood hormones, such as serotonin, regular, which can help combat any mood changes accompanying postnatal depression. Not only that, but when you have a full night’s sleep, you feel more capable and ready to take on the day.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an excellent option for treating the source of postnatal depression, an imbalance of hormones. With HRT, new mothers receive dosages that are tailored to their needs to balance their hormone levels and relieve symptoms. In some cases, a physician may recommend combining HRT with therapy or antidepressants.
While talking to friends and family can be helpful, some mothers benefit more from talking to a professional who is trained in helping new mothers navigate postnatal depression.
Antidepressants are always an option for women with postpartum depression, and there are even varieties available that are safe for mothers who are breastfeeding.
Restore Balance to Your Life
The time immediately following birth causes a massive shift in hormones that can leave some new mothers with postnatal depression. In most cases, these symptoms start to appear around the six-week mark post-birth. This can be a challenging time as a new mother faces all the new responsibilities she now has and the massive shift in hormones occurring internally.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of postnatal depression and would like to correct your hormone imbalance, schedule a 15-minute discovery call at The Hormone Clinic so that we can start restoring balance to your life. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can again enjoy the joys of motherhood.