Eleven Things Which Helped Ease My Postpartum Anxiety Naturally
If you’re at all present in the parenting community these days as a woman of child bearing age, then you’re most likely aware that postpartum depression (PPD) exists and it’s okay to feel that way. Stigma of days past seems all but gone, replaced with awareness and extensive resources. However postpartum anxiety (PPA) is the lesser talked about but actually more prevalent condition (one such study cited it at 17% over 6% for PPD, and more likely to still be present at 6 months postpartum). My third pregnancy brought a new experience into my life that has given me a greater breadth of understanding. Here’s my story and how I feel today at 18 months postpartum:
I’ve never experienced firsthand anxiety other than fleeting experiences before a big exam or presentation. But at 14 weeks pregnant with my third child I felt my first prolonged anxious episode when we left our two young children to attend a seminar in Nevada for five days. The remainder of my pregnancy was healthy, uneventful and mostly blissful as we anticipated the birth of our third child. On July 31st we welcomed a healthy baby girl after a calm and easy labour, delivered into my own hands with the local midwives nearby. For 48 hours I was totally blissed-out and felt amazing; we were home surrounded by family and the older kids were traversing their roles as bigger siblings with love and acceptance. On our second night home, when everyone was in bed sleeping I felt what I can only describe as panic. How was I going to be able to BE EVERYTHING to 3 children when I only had 2 arms?! What if something happens to me?
I think it is completely normal to feel this way when you’re outnumbered for the first time, but nonetheless it was a new experience. I felt calmer and capable after waking my husband to talk me through it. Baby steps. We had our placenta encapsulated and the next day I started taking it which I think helped greatly with energy, sleep, milk and my mood. The following weeks were mostly uneventful, recovery was generally very good, our baby was excellent and life was good. We enjoyed a busy schedule In the remaining weeks of summer; I felt great and wanted to make the most of summertime with our family but maybe looking back I was pushing myself too much too soon. At three weeks postpartum I developed an infection and had to take antibiotics for the first time in over a decade. I was upset with myself knowing how this would impact my gut biome but they were necessary at this point. When we were discharged from the care of the midwives at six weeks postpartum and they inquired how I was feeling emotionally, I felt genuine when I stated that I was very happy and calm. But a few weeks later things started to change, feelings of fear and anxiety creeped in, usually at night time when the busy-ness of the day was done. Looking back on it I had stopped taking the placenta pills, I began working out 3-5x/week and we were into a routine where I was taking care of the kids alone most of the time during the week. While I had not returned to adjusting at our practice I was doing work at home, mostly in the evenings after the kids were asleep. Through months 2-4 postpartum I started experiencing more frequent episodes of anxiousness and rapid heart rate, I felt incapable to juggle all of it at home and with the kids and get work done. I was running on empty and I started having random symptoms that ranged from chest pain to frequent headaches and a few emotional outbursts of crying. During this time I had visited my medical doctor three times which is so completely out of the normal for me and likely should have been a flag for her. I had explained that I “just didn’t feel right”. We did routine blood work which was normal but she never really probed for much more information and suggested I try Zantac (which I never did). And as ironic as it seems, I wasn’t putting it together that what I was feeling was postpartum anxiety likely brought on through multiple factors but highly related to leaky gut and an undiagnosed autoimmune condition that had reached its absolute pinnacle of symptom expression at the same time. I started reading a lot to try and figure out if I was sick, if I was missing something or this was just my new normal as a mom of 3 kids. I read a blog post by a Naturopath about postpartum anxiety and finally I got it – lightbulb moment and from there I’ve been replenishing my body and mind, naturally. The change was immediate when I started being disciplined about integrating the self-care and diet my body needed!
Fast forward to eighteen months postpartum, and I feel like me! I feel optimistic, energized, capable and steady. I feel clear and in control. Here is how I did it and what I would recommend to other mothers:
1. Dietary Choices: Cut out inflammatory foods. For me gluten, dairy and refined sugar had to go. I basically went back to a Paleo diet which I had gotten away from during my pregnancy cravings for bagels and cheese. I know I have leaky gut (stemming from poor diet and antibiotic use in my younger years) and these inflammatory foods were hurting me further.
2. Smoothies, Juicing and Supplemental Green Drinks: With three small kids I feel like I rarely sit other than to nurse a baby or play dolls and I already spend so much time in the kitchen, so I felt I needed to have something healthy that I could rely on for a quick boost. Green smoothies with flax, chia or hemp are great when you can put them together or Greens First which you can just shake up with water were yummy and filled with phytonutrients and antioxidants. I felt like it helped me fill in the gaps without any guilt in a quick manner.
3. Vitamins and Supplements: I had always taken Vitamin D, Omega 3 and Probiotics, but I now added a double dose of Omega 3, Rhodiola and Maca for adrenal support and Milk Thistle for liver support and Magnesium. I worked with a Naturopathic Doctor who has great wisdom and empathy for moms; I suggest everyone keep someone like this on their support team.
4. Lemon Water: First thing every morning I squeeze a lemon and add warm water to it. This helps support liver, reduce inflammation and aids digestion (update: I’ve switched to doTERRA lemon oil in water as the lemon juice was taking a toll on my teeth)
5. Chiropractic Adjustments: I’ve never gone more than a week without being checked and adjusted for the last 13 years. But in this postpartum phase my body was experiencing a lot of physical stress (nursing, carrying a baby, cosleeping), chemical stress (postpartum hormones, poor dietary choices) and emotional stress (hello – anxiety!) My HRV scores were tanking, I was back in a restorative phase of care and that meant getting checked and adjusted 3-4x/week for a period of time. I feel immediate rejuvenation after I get adjusted, I wouldn’t want to live without this. Today I’m back to 1-2x/week and holding most of my adjustments much better.
6. Essential Oils: While we have always used essential oils in our home, I stepped up our usage big time, using daily diffusions, rollerballs in my purse for topical application and ingesting them in the form of supplements. While I think there are various oils that helped: grounding, calming, balancing blends, the most important for me was Frankincense. A few deep breaths of this oil literally changes my focus, my energy, my vibrations….for the better!
7. Massage: I made me a priority and was doing massage every other week for 2 months, sometimes there was a clinical issue to be dealt with and sometimes it was just to center myself and do some good for me. Now I try and keep massages between 3-4 weeks.
8. Find Balance: I stopped working out because I felt that it was actually stressing out my body and driving me into a more sympathetic state of imbalance. The days I worked out I felt more tired and unlike myself. While I’m not necessarily advocating giving up exercise, it might just mean a tweak to something gentler while your body is in recovery. For others, the endorphin release is exactly what they need.
9. SLEEP: I’ve found this to be one of the biggest factors that makes a difference in the short term. With a nursing baby that we cosleep with, I don’t often get long stretches of deep sleep but if I put myself to bed early then at least I can make up for it in quantity if not quality. With that in mind I had to give myself permission to let the work go. I stopped staying up after the kids to get practice work or house work done. My fantastically supportive husband picks up toys and does dishes after the kids are asleep, and I’m so grateful.
10. Positive Affirmations: I am calm. I am healthy. I am the best parent my children can have. I am doing good and this is what matters. Whether it’s prayer, meditation or affirmations, make time to build up your spiritual self.
11. Moms: Having a tribe of like-minded women, that understand your challenges and can build you up when you need it, makes all the difference in the world.
During those initial months when people would ask me how I was doing I kept saying it was taking longer to “bounce back”, and I think sometimes we equate that to the physical aspects of being postpartum: our body, our mummy tummy, our pelvic floor; but for me it was so much about how I was emotionally bouncing back. I’m so grateful to have that clarity back. I’ve since read a fair bit about the idea of postpartum depletion, and after nearly seven years of pregnancies and breastfeeding or both simultaneously, I believe this to be true to my experience. I need to be much more on point with the choices I make for myself because health and vitality are something we have to be purposeful about. I give so much of myself to my children, my husband and even my practice members and community that I have to remember to take care of me first so that I can continue to serve and flourish.
I’d like to add a word on pharmaceutical intervention for postpartum anxiety. When I started researching articles on this topic almost everything I read centered on dropping the stigma around asking for help in the postpartum period…..and then medicating yourself. If that’s your journey then so be it, but it was never going to be mine. No judgement, it’s just not my health philosophy. My body didn’t fail me, I’m not branded deficient, my physiology had fallen victim to the landscape, to the environment and nourishment I was providing it. I’m a believer of creating true health, not putting out fires or adding bandaids. If we’re going to talk about acceptance and open dialogues then let’s also talk about natural solutions that don’t involve creating a pharmaceutical customer for life. If you want to improve your physiology; mental or physical health, then you first have to upgrade your nervous system capacity. The Brain-Gut-Immune axis should not be underestimated and does hold many of the solutions we seek.
We would like to add one more child to our family and I know that before I do that I need to replenish my nutrient stores and take care of me so that I can confidently navigate that next chapter and take care of my family. For now, I feel like this experience has blessed me with greater empathy and insight for the moms that I care for. I don’t claim to be an expert in this, just a mom sharing her experience in hopes that it helps someone else regain their true self and bounce back to the life they love living!
Dr. Megan 🙂