Postpartum depression is experienced by up to 15 percent of women after delivery. Symptoms can appear within a few days after birth, can persist past 10 days and can become serious enough to threaten the wellness of mother and baby. Depression, excessive tiredness and thoughts of suicide characterize this condition, and in the most severe cases, psychosis can occur. According to Virginia Hopkins Health Watch, postpartum depression is related to brain chemical imbalances, resulting from nutrients the body lacks, which stabilize the neurotransmitters of serotonin and norepinephrine. Medical intervention is the first line of treatment for this condition, in addition to herbal and vitamin supplementation.
Niacin and Iron
The brain neurotransmitter serotonin is important for regulating moods, sleep and appetite. Your body produces this chemical with the help of the nutrient niacin and the mineral iron. Adequate intake of niacin and iron converts tryptophan into the compound 5-hydroxyl-L-tryptophan, which is a version of serotonin. Treatment of postpartum depression includes preventing deficiencies in niacin and iron, either through eating food sources containing these nutrients or by taking supplements. The daily allowance recommendation of niacin for breastfeeding mothers is 17mg, with an upper limit of 35mg. Iron intake ranges from 9 to 18mg, with an upper limit of 45mg. Food sources include light-meat chicken, yielding 7.3mg of niacin and 12.8mg of iron per 3 oz. serving; nuts or beans, with between 1.8 to 3.8mg of niacin and 3.8 to 8.8mg of iron per cup; and cereal, which can contain 5 to 27mg of niacin and 18mg of iron, depending if it is fortified or not. Consult your physician on proper dose and supplement options.
Calcium and Vitamin D
According to the University of Michigan Depression Center, calcium supplements can help decrease symptoms of postpartum depression. For your body to properly use calcium, however, you must also get adequate vitamin D intake. The daily recommendation for calcium in lactating females is 1,000mg, with an upper limit of 2,500mg, and vitamin D intake is 400 international units. Calcium is obtained from foods such as dairy, green vegetables such as broccoli and fortified breakfast cereals. Milk is generally fortified with vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption, or you can also obtain vitamin D from 15 minutes of sunlight exposure at least three times a week. However, this carries a risk of skin damage, such as burns or the development of skin cancer.
St. John's Wort
St. John's wort is an herbal supplement commonly used in treating mild to moderate symptoms of depression. This herb comes from a yellow flowering plant containing the compounds hypericin and hyperforin, which is thought to increase serotonin levels in the brain. The herb is sold as capsules and tablets or is made into a tea from the dried leaves. Holistic Online says that doses up to 900mg a day are safe for reducing postpartum symptoms. Although this herb is highly used for treating depression, the March of Dimes says that dose and strength are variable among brands, which makes taking St. John's wort questionable when treating postpartum depression. Other herbs found useful in managing symptoms of depression include licorice root tea and ginkgo biloba. Consult your physician before using herbal remedies for treating depression.
The B vitamins serve a variety of functions in your body, such as regulating metabolism and maintaining energy levels. In treating postpartum depression, consuming foods with these vitamins or using a B-complex vitamin can help manage symptoms due to the role this group plays in converting tryptophan into serotonin. Find a complex containing vitamins B6, B9 and B12 for adequate nutrition. Foods containing the B vitamins include nuts and beans, lean meats such as chicken or seafood and fortified cereals. Consult your physician regarding adequate dosing of the B vitamins in treating postpartum symptoms.
- March of Dimes: Postpartum Depression
- University of Michigan: Postpartum Depression
- Holistic Online: Depression Herbal Medicine
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: St. John's Wort and Depression
- Virginia Hopkins Health Watch: How Stress and Poor Nutrition Can Cause Postpartum Depression
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B6