Treating Post Partum Depression with TCM

This article was printed in the Nelson Daily News in April, 2009.

Spring is here and the evidence of a long winter is becoming evident as many new babies come forth into the world. For many, this is a joyous occasion as we celebrate and invite these ‘bundles of joy’ into our families and lives.

For some women, however, the arrival of a new baby brings an entirely different experience. During pregnancy, female hormones of estrogen and progesterone increase greatly only to drop rapidly to normal levels within the first 24 hours after childbirth. While it is not uncommon for most women to experience ‘baby blues’ for a short time while hormone levels regulate, some women develop longer lasting symptoms that may remain for weeks or years. Women with post-partum depression may feel: tired after delivery, tired from lack of sleep or broken sleep, overwhelmed with the new baby, doubts about their ability to be a good mother, stress from change in the work and home routines, an unrealistic need to be a perfect mom, loss of who you were before having the baby, feelings of being less attractive, lack of free time, feelings of suicide or even destructive thoughts of harming the baby or someone else.

In TCM there are three main reasons why post-partum depression may result:

  • excessive blood loss during delivery
  • static blood after childbirth
  • constitutional tendency to mental-emotional problems

In TCM, the heart houses the Spirit-mind and governs blood. Excessive blood loss during delivery or a pre-existing Blood deficiency results in failure to nourish the Spirit-mind. When not properly nourished the Spirit-mind becomes weak and unsettled and may manifest as symptoms such as fatigue, mild anxiety, insomnia, tearfulness, a feeling of guilt, loss of libido, poor memory, and/or palpitations.

If a Blood deficiency is left untreated it may develop further into a Yin deficiency or if the woman has a predisposition to a Yin deficiency, more serious symptoms may develop. More serious symptoms may include insomnia, mental restlessness, scanty breast milk, palpitations, feeling of heat in the evening and night sweating.

Blood that is not able to move freely becomes static after childbirth and ‘harasses’ the Spirit-mind. In this case the woman is not only depressed but also confused and may experience manic or aggressive behavior, delusions, hallucinations and destructive or suicidal thinking. ‘Post partum psychosis’ is far less common but gives some explanation of why a woman may abandon or even harm her own child(ren).

Women who experience post-partum depression tends to feel alone and isolated in their experience. This feeling itself is a symptom of the depression. If you or someone you know is experiencing post-partum depression, please seek medical attention as this is a treatable condition. Acupuncture and TCM may also be well suited for you. For a full consultation and treatment, contact the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences Outpatient Clinic.

written by previous staff member, Dove Sprout, Registered Practitioner of TCM.