Postpartum nutrition: Foods to prevent depression in new mothers | Health

The journey of motherhood can start on a rough note for some women. Symptoms like feeling sad, hopeless, irritable or empty should not be ignored in new mothers who are susceptible to postpartum depression after giving birth. Around 1 in 7 women experience depression and fight this difficult battle along with their newborn. A woman undergoes a series of changes in body and mind after she becomes a mother and it’s important for family members and friends to take care of the new mom and also regularly inquire about their well-being. (Also read: Reduced sense of smell in older people potentially linked to depression: Study)

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common mood disorder that affects approximately 1 in 7 women after childbirth.  (Freepik)
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common mood disorder that affects approximately 1 in 7 women after childbirth. (Freepik)

Many new mothers who battle depression are not able to take care of themselves or even their baby well. Nutrition can play a role in relieving symptoms of postpartum depression as certain foods can improve cognitive health, moods and overall well-being.

“Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common mood disorder that affects approximately 1 in 7 women after childbirth. Symptoms of postpartum depression may vary in severity and include feelings of anxiety, irritability, withdrawal from family and friends and exhaustion, which can significantly impact a mother’s ability to care for her newborn. Although there are many factors that contribute to the development of PPD, recent research suggests that nutrition may play an important role in the prevention and management of this disorder,” says Manpreet Kaur Paul, Executive Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Faridabad.

The link between nutrition and postpartum depression

The postpartum period, also known as the postnatal period, refers to the period of time that immediately follows childbirth. During this period, a woman’s body goes through a number of physical and emotional changes as it recovers from labor and adjusts to caring for a newborn. This period is a critical time for a woman’s health, and proper nutrition is essential for recovery and wellbeing.

Paul shares a list of nutrients which have been linked to the prevention and management of PPD:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that play a critical role in brain function and development. These acids may play a role in preventing postpartum depression, although the research in this area is still emerging. Some studies have suggested that Omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy and postpartum period may reduce the risk of developing PPD. One randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that women who received a high dose Omega-3 supplement during pregnancy and for three months postpartum had a lower risk of developing PPD compared to women who received a placebo. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, as well as in nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is required for bone health and immune function. Recent research suggests that low levels of vitamin D may be linked to an increased risk of PPD, although the evidence in this area is still limited and conflicting. A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found no significant evidence in Vitamin D levels between women with or without postpartum depression. More research is needed to better understand the relationship between Vitamin D and PPD. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods such as milk and cereal.

3.Iron

Iron is a mineral that is essential for the production of red blood cells and oxygen transport. A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women with low levels of iron during pregnancy were most likely to experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that women with adequate iron levels during pregnancy had a lower risk of developing postpartum depression. Thus, it becomes very necessary to include iron rich sources in the diet to combat the growing concern of postpartum depression nowadays. Iron can be found in lean red meat, poultry, fish, and leafy green vegetables.

4. B Vitamins

B vitamins play a crucial role in energy metabolism and brain function. Some studies have suggested that low levels of certain B vitamins, including folate and vitamin B12, may be associated with an increased risk of postpartum depression. A small study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that women with low levels of folate and Vitamin B12 are likely to experience symptoms of PPD. B vitamins can be found in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and fortified cereals.

Dietary Patterns and Postpartum Depression

“In addition to individual nutrients, research has also shown that certain dietary patterns may be linked to the prevention and management of PPD. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is a dietary pattern that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts. Research has shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of PPD. On the other hand, a diet that is high in processed and refined foods, such as fast food, sugary/carbonated drinks, and snacks, has been linked to an increased risk of PPD. This type of diet is often referred to as the Western diet and is characterized by a high intake of saturated fat, sugar, and salt,” says Paul.

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