Did you know that up to 75% of mothers will experience the baby blues postpartum?
The baby blues are an emotional and mental shift that happen when the cocktail of pregnancy hormones rapidly decreases while at the same time, a mother learns how to interact and care for her new baby. It’s a stressful time but it tends to be relatively short.
But 10-20% of mothers (and some new research shows that it may be higher) will develop postpartum depression, which has more severe symptoms than the baby blues and can but the mother’s life in danger. Postpartum depression or PPD often develops six months postpartum and sometimes as late as one year.
I go into more detail about the differences in this blog post but for this blog post I’d like to say right now: if you are showing signs of depression including withdrawing from friends and family, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy and having no interest in the baby talk to your midwife or primary care provider.
Flower essences can be very supportive in helping with emotional and spiritual shifts and are a powerful energetic medicine, but PPD can be life-threatening. Make sure that you have a support system in place before supplementing your care with flower essences.
The Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression: The Chinese Medical Perspective
There are two major organ systems that impact emotions in Chinese Medicine: the heart and the liver. The heart generates all of our emotions because it is the seat of our consciousness. When those emotions are in balance, the liver is able to help them move freely.
But if there is an issue that impacts the ability of the liver to properly course and smooth the flow of emotion, or the emotions are out of balance there can be disruption to our emotional state.
The Organ Systems involved
Each organ system has a type of out of balance emotion that can damage it. For instance, the kidneys are damaged by out of control fear. The spleen is damaged by worry and over-thinking.
When a mother goes into labor, she recruits heavily from her reserves of the qi and blood of all of her organ systems. If the birth is complicated or traumatic in any way, these systems can become even more damaged. The organ systems most likely to be impacted are the heart, liver, kidneys and spleen.
One of the best ways to mitigate this damage is proper postpartum care but sometimes even in the most ideal situations, imbalances will occur.
Types of depression
There isn’t just one type of postpartum depression. From a Western perspective, imbalances can present as:
- the Baby Blues
- postpartum depression (PPD)
- postpartum psychosis (PPP)
- postpartum anxiety (PPA)
- postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (PPOCD)
- postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PPPTSD)
Each of these conditions fall under one or more of the following TCM patterns:
- Heart and spleen qi or yang deficiency
- Liver kidney yin deficiency
- Stagnation of liver qi (sometimes with liver fire rising)
Heart and spleen qi deficiency occurs when the body has been depleted of qi and blood during the pregnancy and subsequent birth. The heart doesn’t have enough oomph to manage the emotions and the spleen can’t generate enough energy to support the body.
Liver and kidney yin deficiency is common in mothers who were very emotionally involved in the pregnancy and birth, giving it everything they had, worrying about the details and often not accepting help.
Liver qi stagnation is common in type A mothers – the mothers who were impatient for the pregnancy to be over, the birth to start, labor to end. Nothing happens fast enough. These mothers often had trouble getting pregnant in the first place because they couldn’t relax.
This pattern can be complicated by liver fire rising. If you remember, the liver is governed by the wood element. Let’s step into metaphor for a second here. Liver qi stagnation is when wood energy can’t move, so it all bundles together. What happens when wood rubs against other wood with pressure and speed? The friction creates heat and eventually fire. Fire and heat rise. In this case the fire disturbs the peacefulness of the heart (and therefore the peace and comfort of your consciousness) and leads to anger.
Treatments for Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues
Treatments will always depend on severity of symptoms but could include:
- pharmaceutical interventions, like an SSRI
- talk therapy
- coping mechanisms such as talking to your partner or community support
- herbal remedies
- relaxation practices such as yoga or medication
- flower essences
Flower essences help by shifting the root cause of the emotion. For many mothers (and fathers) PPD and its associated conditions are neurochemical imbalances. But flower essences and their associated affirmations can help create new neural pathways, allowing for new thought patterns and a shift in how your brain responds to those neurochemicals.
These flower essences can help by giving you hope, supporting your confidence and safely releasing that liver fire anger.
White Chestnut Flower Essence
A common symptom in postpartum women and women approaching menopause is racing thoughts that prevent them from falling asleep OR waking in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep because of those thoughts. From a Chinese medical perspective, we see this as Liver Kidney Yin Deficiency.
White Chestnut is great for repeated unwanted thoughts, like the mother who keeps checking her baby’s breathing despite having checked it moments before. Or repeated thoughts about being a bad mother. It quiets the mental chatter so that you can relax.
Interestingly, the acupuncture point that White Chestnut is most associated with is Ren 1, the point from which the three most powerful yin channels emerge from the body. Please note that topical application of flower essences to Ren 1 is contraindicated until tissue has healed.
Burdock Flower Essence
Burdock is best for the type of depression that manifests as anger. This may sound strange, but I think back to something an old counselor friend of mine once. She was talking about walking a patient of hers through a realization about depression:
Patient: I’m not sad, I’m just angry!
My friend: And why are you angry?
Patient: Because they hurt me.
My friend: And how did it feel when they hurt you?
Sometimes we need someone else to point it out to us.
I think more people project anger to cover depression than they realize. This is a classic Liver Qi Stagnation with Liver Fire Rising sort of pattern. Liver Qi Stagnation is something I often describe as stress, but another good description would be a consistent low grade feeling of depression. Liver fire rising is anger.
Burdock can help with that irritability and anger that you feel stuck with – the kind where you lash out and inwardly, feel guilty afterwards. It’s for repressed anger too. If you’re the type to say that everything is “fine” when it is decidedly not, burdock may be for you.
Sunflower Flower Essence
One of the hardest feelings to deal with postpartum is the feeling of incompetence. If you’ve never been a mother before, or you’ve never been a mother of multiple children those first few weeks and months can be filled with the mantra “I don’t know if I can do this.” This can manifest as any of the three TCM patterns, but it is usually associated with the Heart and Spleen Yang pattern. Heart type depressions tend to be the omnipresent sad ache you can feel in your bones – the kind that keeps you from eating and keeps your inner light from shining.
Sunflower helps you regain your confidence much like daffodil (link to previous blog post) but instead of instilling hope after difficult times it helps to remind you that you are strong enough and bright enough to do this. It allows you to set aside those “fraudy feelings”, have faith in yourself and gives you the will to move forward.
Sunflower helps you realize that you can do this.
Rose Flower Essence
Rose Flower Essences also helps support our feelings of self-worth and competence, but instead of dealing with it from a confidence standpoint it helps us to feel nurtured and supported. It helps us feel balanced so we stop trying to push through this emotional time without stopping to process our emotions. Barreling through PPD or PPA without looking at the root of the feelings is like hitting the gas as hard as you can when you’re stuck in snow – you’re just going to end up spinning your wheels.
The only way to have permanent ongoing change is to nourish yourself through the process and honor the feelings that come with it. This is the sort of situation that having a counselor to do talk therapy with can be invaluable, and Rose can support you through the process.
Bloodroot Flower Essence
The use of bloodroot may be controversial here because it is not traditionally used for postpartum anything. But before traditional Flower Essence practitioners comment below, hear me out:
According to Tree Frog Farm, bloodroot
Nudges out physical, emotional, mental and spiritual genetic patterns inherited from generations of family members to make way for the light of new potential. Reawakens living as a fully functioning human….A gene may become habituated to expressing in a particular way by family generational patterning, by engrained(sic) belief systems or by environmental influences.
The stories we tell about women, pregnancy and motherhood are unhealthy. We tell young girls that they must look a certain way, weigh a certain amount, dress a certain way, and act a certain way. But all of these stories of how we tell them to act also have opposites they are supposed to obey.
We tell pregnant women that they are supposed to suffer through pregnancy – that morning sickness is normal and that you’re supposed to just deal with it. That back pain and hip pain are just part of the deal. That you’ll never sleep again. And that those emotional outbursts? You’re just being silly because of the hormones. ::eyeroll::
And then the stories we tell mothers. Where do we even begin? You’re supposed to be happy!! Don’t talk about your depression. Don’t talk about your overwhelm. Put on a smiling face. Go back to work after six week. Breastfeed your baby, but only be allowed to pump once during your eight hour shift in a dirty, cold room.
We need to change these stories – all of them. We need to end this pattern we’ve been telling new parents for generations and this is what bloodroot is meant for. Helping you realize that no, you don’t have to suffer in silence. That, no you don’t have to just deal with your pain.
But most of all, bloodroot will help open the door to you changing this pattern for future generations.
Previously discussed flower essences
A few flower essences from last week’s blog post might be useful for you too.
Echinacea can help you develop a strong sense of self and maintain your core while you transition into a new phase of motherhood.
Impatiens can help for the liver qi stagnant impatient irritability that often comes while adjusting to a new lifestyle.
Mimulus is for known fears – anxiety about things you can put your finger on but can’t convince yourself that they aren’t a problem.
Daffodil can help bring hope in dark times. It is the promise of sunshine after the dark, cold of winter
Incorporating flower essences
Finding the right flower essence can be tricky. Say you are depressed and you don’t feel like you have any hope so you take daffodil because it is for hope in dark times. But it does nothing.
It does nothing because you have no hope that you’ll be able to remain yourself on the other side of this transition – the indication for echinacea.
Flower essences are most effective when treating the root, and the root may take some experimentation to find. If you would like to explore flower essences as part of your treatment or to supplement your care with acupuncture, click the button below to schedule online today.
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Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Resources and links
American Pregnancy Association – Types of Postpartum Depression
The Being Boss Podcast is for creative entrepreneurs and startups, so it isn’t my typical resource. But “fraudy feelings” or imposter syndrome is something a lot of parents cope with at the beginning of this new adventure. If you’ve ever thought that you can’t do this, you aren’t cut out for this or that someone will discover that you are a “terrible parent” and come and take your baby away have a listen to this and see if it applies.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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