We are all familiar with the "Baby Blues", or Postpartum Depression disorder, but did you know that at least 10% of new mothers suffer from another lesser known perinatal mood disorder called Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)?
PPD and PPA often go hand in hand—about half of women who have postpartum depression also have anxiety.
In this article, we will talk about what acupuncture and TCM can do for PPA.
Symptoms of PPA
Postpartum anxiety is a syndrome where the mother is overly anxious and may even suffer from paranoid thoughts or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
For the majority of women, postpartum anxiety symptoms kick in sometime between birth and Baby's first birthday—but in some cases they begin much earlier. "25 to 35 percent of postpartum anxiety cases begin during pregnancy," says Ann Smith, CNM and President of Postpartum Support International.
Some anxious new moms who have just given birth can experience:
Feelings of dread or panic
Lack of concentration
Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
If you feel like this and your condition persists for more than two weeks or you have thoughts of harming your baby, you should speak with your doctor immediately.
Chinese medicine's perspective on PPA
"Jing" or your life-essence
In Chinese Medicine childbirth is considered the biggest drain of essence or jing.
Jing is basically your life force reserve. Everyone is born with a certain amount (your genetic endowment) and energy levels are steadily used to sustain life (aging).
Jing essence is almost impossible to replenish. Jing is drawn steadily from the "kidneys" where it is housed throughout life during aging process.
Jing reserves are burned rapidly by stressful events, medications, and drugs that target the adrenals. For longevity, it is preferable to draw the energy you need from the food you eat and sleep rather than burning the candle by both ends and use your reserves.
For childbearing and childbirth, a woman literally transfers her Jing (essence) to her baby in giving the gift of life. After birth, she will be extremely depleted and fragile.
Postpartum & Blood Deficiency
From a Chinese medicine point of view, postpartum people are extremely blood deficient.
A woman's blood volume almost doubles during pregnancy to support the growing baby.
That's why pregnant women have "the glow" and their hair gets thick, their nails solid, and some wrinkles disappear. It changes during postpartum, as blood levels return to baseline.
Childbirth can be pretty bloody, especially if you have had a C-section. Nursing also depletes the body’s fluid levels and the blood (see our article on TCM for breastfeeding here).
When blood and fluid levels get low, you end up in a state that Chinese medicine calls Liver Blood or Heart Blood Deficiency. This can manifest as disturbed sleep, palpitations, dry mouth, agitation, anxiety, trouble concentrating, and so on.
The treatment: nourishing the mother
There are many classical herbal formulas to address both the root and symptom of postpartum anxiety. If you are worried about taking herbs and breastfeeding, then acupuncture alone can also be done.
Supplements to consider
Dietary therapy is helpful as well. I always make sure new parents are taking:
Floradix: veggie iron supplement
Eating foods that nourish the Kidneys (home to Jing Essence): black beans, fish, black sesame seeds, molasses, seaweed (see our article here about black foods for kidney and adrenal health)
Dandelion and nettles (easily available in tea form) to boost iron and calcium.
Consider Postpartum Confinement (sitting the month)
This "confinement" is a tradition not only in China but many other traditions around the world.
The new mother is fragile and depleted, and the now empty womb needs time to return to its original shape.
During this time, after blood loss and extremely hard work, the body is more susceptible to external pathogens, that may enter and lurk until later in life.
While the most extreme recommendations are not really relevant nowadays anymore, the common sense principles include:
go out as little as possible to favor rest for the first weeks
do not get exposed to cold (air conditioning, cold water)
cover your feet and your neck
eat plenty of nourishing soups, stews, organ meats if you are not vegetarian
get meals prepared for you, or delivered to you
Acupuncture & herbs
Acupuncture is famous for its anxiety relieving effects. It targets the parasympathetic nervous system that takes you away from fight-or-flight mode.
Herbs can be added as well, that will replenish your blood and Jing, for example the classic formula Si Wu Tang. Of course the treatment will be highly customized just for you!
So don't suffer alone and talk to your acupuncturist !
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