Sleep in pregnancy is important. It’s often the last uninterrupted sleep for months or even years. In counselling psychology, the cause of most postpartum depression is understood as a insomnia combined with anemia. This makes a lot of sense. In acupuncture theory we know that anemia can be the root of both insomnia and depression.
The second and third trimester is when iron levels tend to drop. This is in part due to an increase in fluid volume but also because the fetus is growing rapidly. Low iron stores aren’t seen seen as a problem unless there are symptoms associated. Insomnia is not necessarily one of those symptoms. A midwife at my clinic was intrigued when I explained the connection.
The amount of blood required to nourish a pregnancy and new-born is massive. Combine this with loss of blood at birth, low levels to begin with and a diet that is not nutrient dense to result in many health concerns. This is the perfect storm resulting in a tired mother who can’t sleep even when her baby is. Early diagnosis and prevention can limit suffering.
Research shows that postpartum depression isn’t limited to the first year of after birth. In fact onset is most common later, around the time a child is 4 years old. The number of lost nights of sleep is countless by then. I often refer to motherhood as a high intensity endurance challenge. If this is so then preparing for it makes a lot of sense.
Patients who are ready to have children come to see me. Ideally both parents want to optimize their health prior to conception. I resolve any gut issues because we know this can contribute to a heightened stress response. We look at nutrient status and rule out any absorption issues.
We talk about stress management and hormone balance. Onset of autoimmune driven thyroid disease occurs after pregnancy in the majority of cases. Preventing this by looking a specific markers and ensuring that triggers are removed is a first step. Looking at the long-term health of the parents is the best way to support the child. Fertility, pregnancy or breastfeeding all require similar diet and lifestyle strategies.
Patients have told me they didn’t know they were depressed until they begin feeling better and are able to reflect. Compound work, relationship, physical, mental and emotional stress along with a new baby means extra care and attention are needed. Keep in mind that postpartum depression is a type of clinical depression affecting both sexes. Symptoms include sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, anxiety and irritability. In severe cases in can include panic attacks, social withdrawal, addiction and psychotic episodes.