Support For Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

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Support For Postpartum Depression and Anxiety


This week is Maternal Mental Health Week, highlighting a major issue for new parents – postpartum depression and anxiety.

Lots of moms get postpartum blues. I remember crying the deepest ugly-cries of my life in the week after my daughter was born. I felt like something was wrong with me for not being over the moon while I just tried to go to the bathroom without losing all my pelvic organs. Between the mix of hormones, the physical pain, the crying baby, possibly a toddler in the mix, how could we not feel thrown off balance in those days after giving birth? These postpartum blues are very common and often resolve within 1-2 weeks after birth.

The Postpartum Year

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a much more serious18278201_1168727663239656_5743317177966791930_o situation than the usual blues. It usually starts in the 1-3 weeks after giving birth, but can start anytime in the first year after birth.  People with postpartum depression have intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair that prevent them from being able to do their daily tasks. For some people, anxiety or OCD-type behaviors are predominant, again, to the point where daily function is impaired.

Partners of birthing women can also fall into postpartum depression.  Everyone knows that birthing women go through hormonal fluctuations after giving birth, but many people don’t realize that partners can actually have hormonal changes as well as. Lack of sleep, changing relationship dynamics and financial worries can all contribute to PPD/A in partners.  A study from New Zealand published this year that interviewed male partners of birthing women found 2.3% had elevated prenatal and elevated postnatal depression symptoms among 4.3%.

Finding Help

If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, seeking out professional help is essential.   Katherine Kessler, DO is an integrative psychiatrist in Portland, ME who works with people with postpartum depression and anxiety from an integrative, functional medicine perspective.  In her approach, “the full spectrum of possible causes and symptoms are addressed in helping a woman move towards health again. Thinking about key factors like sleep, support networks, nutrition, neuro-chemical imbalances and mindfulness practices in an integrated fashion can be extremely helpful for women as they regain balance in the postpartum period.”  There are so many factors that can contribute to PPD/A, it makes sense to find a mental health professional who will take a range of factors into account.

In addition to seeking out help from a mental health professional, if you think that you may be suffering with postpartum depression, here are ten important things you can do:

Get your thyroid hormone levels checked, including TSH, Free T3, Free T4, and Anti-TPO. Thyroid issues are not uncommon for postpartum women. Often this is a temporary issue that resolves after a year or so.

Get emotional support. Talk therapy can be essential during this time. In addition to connecting with a mental health professional, there may be a support group for new moms in your area.  The Maternal Health Alliance of Maine offers free support groups for postpartum mothers on USM’s Portland campus at 10am on the first Saturday and 3rd Wednesday of each month.

Get physical support. Ask for help from friends or family members. They can set up a meal delivery schedule or come hold the baby while you rest or take time for yourself.  In the Portland ME area, Liz’s Kitchen provides delicious, nutritious meal delivery.  If you don’t have family close by, postpartum doulas are a great resource.

Rest. In many other cultures, birthing women are encouraged to rest during the early postpartum period.  In traditional Chinese culture, women actually stay home for a whole month, staying in bed and only taking care of the baby when it needs to be fed or held.  Family members bring food to new mothers and take care of other household tasks.   A month may seem like a long time, but try to prioritize rest and let other people do things for you.

Eat healthy fats and protein.  Your body is repairing itself and you are likely breast feeding, so make sure you get enough protein and good quality fats in your diet.  Warm, nourishing soups are traditionally considered the best foods for postpartum moms.

Get moderate exercise. Moderate exercise can really make a difference for people suffering from PPD/A.  Don’t push it though! Remember your body is recovering from a herculean task, so it’s not a good time to train for a triathlon. If there are days when you are too tired to take a walk, deep belly breathing can mimic some of the effects of exercise.

See an acupuncturist. Acupuncture addresses the mind-body connection and pinpoints physical imbalances that may be contributing to your mental/emotional state.  It prompts your body to release endorphins and enkephalins, your body’s natural stress- and pain-relievers.  Herbal medicine can help improve blood quality as “blood deficiency” is very common in postpartum women and can affect everything from sleep quality to milk supply.

Take your placenta. I’m serious! Many doulas in the area offer placenta encapsulation services where they prepare it and give it to you in pill or tincture form. I have seen placenta makes a huge difference for women with PPD/A as well as helping with milk production.

Make social plans. Get out of the house and see other adults!  Go to postnatal yoga, meet up with other parents, or get out and do something with your partner while someone else watches the baby.   Parenthood brings a huge shift in identity so it can also be really helpful to reconnect to a pre-baby part of yourself.

Be gentle with yourself. Try to let go of expectations and ‘should’s (yours and other people’s!) For instance, you don’t have to start losing weight or wanting to be intimate immediately.  There are a lot of expectations put on new parents and moms especially that only add to the stress of having a newborn.  If you had a difficult birth experience, it is important to acknowledge those feelings as well.  Acupuncture can also help with processing feelings around a difficult birth.


If you are pregnant now, you can start planning for your family leave before the baby arrives.  Ask some friends to organize meal delivery for you, or make some meals to freeze ahead of time.  In Portland, ME, Ballast & Buoy Postpartum Family Care offers Make Way For Baby classes to help you prepare for the postpartum period.

If you or someone you know is struggling in the postpartum period, don’t put off looking for or offering help.  The postpartum year is a time when it truly does take a village, and you can make a difference in the lives of the whole family by seeking help or offering the resources listed here to someone who might need them.  Check out our community resource page for a listing of many Portland, ME area resources for families!


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