“In the months after I gave birth, when my mood, stress levels (and hormones) seemed to be uncontrollable – oh and of course the lack of sleep! – I would have liked to know that the food that I ate could actually help regulate my mood”, said Joëlle, Founder of My Healthy Bangkok.
We know that there are certain foods that can help produce more milk (galactagogue foods), we know there is a certain way of eating that helps us lean out, but we’ve forgotten about that big ole ball upstairs that controls our everyday functioning: eating for the brain!
With anywhere between 11 and 20 percent of new moms struggling with postpartum depression and suffering from “mommy brain”, the conversation needs to be had so that new mamas can heal their way to happy.
Is “mom brain” a thing?
Simply put, yes. It’s easy to laugh off such lapses as “mommy brain”, but there is actual scientific evidence to show that those lapses in brain space are actually due to more than just drastic changes to hormones, fatigue and the new overwhelming love for a new baby (although those do definitely play a major role as well!).
The brain has been a hot topic of study within the medical world and with that they are tapping into what happens to new mom’s mental health after birth. The current evidence suggests that pregnancy changes the brain on a physical and cellular level.
So yes, your “mom brain” is actually a thing but does this have to do with postpartum depression? Let’s dive in.
What is post-partum depression?
According to Webmd, “Postpartum depression is linked to chemical, social, and psychological changes associated with having a baby”. Feeling those “baby blues‘’ after childbirth is common due to massive release of chemicals and changes in hormones. These feelings of depression and anxiety should lift within a few days after giving birth. If the feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness last for longer than 2 weeks, you may have postpartum depression.
Anywhere between 11 and 20 percent struggle with postpartum depression (PPD), which can develop any time during the first year after welcoming a baby.
The tie that this has with “mommy brain” is that so many new moms expect to feel just as they had before they delivered life to this world. With that expectation comes reality. The cellular makeup of the brain is alternated and those Type-A mama’s may now find that focusing on work has become a struggle and remembering important tasks by memory often goes forgotten.
Symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to what happens normally following childbirth. Such as difficulty sleeping, excessive fatigue, decreased libido, appetite changes, and frequent mood changes. They may also include depressed mood; loss of pleasure; feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness; thoughts of death or suicide or thoughts or hurting someone else.
Due to this shift in mental clarity, it can lead to an inner conflict to unfold (aka: the expectation hangover that Christina Traister addresses perfectly). This can be one of the contributing factors to postpartum depression.
The other major contributor is the massive changes that happen within the microbiome that result in a shift of messages being sent between the gut-brain axis.
Connection Between Gut Health and Postpartum Depression
The gut is an incredibly intelligent organ. It is home to trillions of microorganisms that control just about everything about you. Beyond digesting those lactation cookies, your microbiome is responsible for:
- Your hormones
- Your weight balance
- Your skin
- Your sleep patterns
- Your energy levels
- Your genes
- Your autoimmunities
- Your moods
- Your mental clarity
And so much more!
So after creating life, birthing life, and now the stressors (and insurmountable joys!) of raising life, it makes sense that your moods are feeling a little out of balance. But, there are certain things you can start doing today that can help relieve and hopefully prevent postpartum depression.
Gutting Started On Nutritionally Addressing Postpartum Depression
With 90% of your serotonin — your happy hormone — housed within your gut lining, it only makes sense that the foods you’re consuming daily will have a direct impact on your moods.
Science is continuing to explore ways to help moms manage symptoms associated with PPD, and even reduce their risk of developing it in the first place- food being at the forefront.
The gut-brain axis is the two-way street, with 80-90% of the communication coming from the gut to the brain. Communication takes place via the nervous and immune systems and are continually chatting away without you even knowing. This is why g(u)tting healthy before baby arrives is a good thing and something I work with my expecting-to-be-expecting mama’s.
The first things, adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and understanding your trigger foods. In my Gut Recharge Course, we walk you through how to do this for your unique diet and lifestyle desires along with adopting a diet that amplifies your mental well-being. The general rule of thumb is that you want to crowd out all the foods that make the body (and thus, the brain) inflamed.
The gut flora changes a lot from pre-pregnancy, to mid-term, to delivery. These changes are bound to influence the new mother’s mental well-being. Focusing on repairing and rebuilding the gut can do wonders during each phase. I would consider a probiotic during pregnancy and after (run everything by your doc!), to eat a colorful and plant-rich diet to get tons of fiber. This will help to make sure your gut bugs are well fed and happy and as a result you will be too!
Of course, PPD is incredibly complex and nutrition is only one piece of the puzzle. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to your mental health care practitioner. Being a mom is HARD, no shame in asking for help.