Magnesium’s Role in Postpartum Depression

One of the many forms depression can take is postpartum depression

Statistics Canada reports that in Ontario, up to 23% of new mothers experience symptoms that match either postpartum depression (PPD) or an anxiety disorder. 

Although many questions around PPD remain unanswered, we know that magnesium is generally depleted in the postpartum months. One of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency can be feelings of depression, even if you never experience full-blown PPD.

In this post, we’ll share need-to-know facts about postpartum depression and baby blues, why magnesium levels are decreased in new mothers, and some secrets to a healthy postpartum. 

PPD vs Common “Baby Blues”  — Why the Difference is Important 

It’s important not to confuse “baby blues,” a common postpartum experience, with postpartum depression, a serious condition that requires treatment.

Although they may seem similar, the two conditions necessitate totally different treatments.

Many new mums (up to 80%) go through baby blues. Symptoms are difficult but not unmanageable, and will not last longer than two weeks. They can include:

  • Mood swings 
  • Crying spells 
  • Anxiety 
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Change in appetite 

When you think about it, baby blues are normal and to be expected — your mind, body, life, and hormones have just been dramatically changed.

Hormone Changes and Imbalance

Many of the hormones we rely on to feel “normal” or “well” drop right after delivery, which means a whirlwind of mood changes and other unexpected feelings or symptoms. 

Right after giving birth, there’s a marked drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, which is often the cause of your “baby blues” and mood swings. At the same time, your body is being filled with oxytocin, “the love hormone” to help you breastfeed easier and bond with your baby. 

And it’s not only your mood that will be constantly changing! Another thing that will be different is how your joints and bones feel. During pregnancy, your body is also producing relaxin, a hormone that loosens and eases movement of ligaments and joints, particularly in the pelvic area. After delivery, it takes some time for your joints to firm up again, and for the hormone to lower its levels. During that time your joints may feel sensitive, so you should take extra care of them, and stick to low-impact exercise — if that’s your jam.

In some cases, women experience more serious hormone imbalance after delivery. You can take consolation in the fact that even if it feels uncomfortable now, your hormones will likely normalize within 10-14 days of delivery.

At any time after delivery, you can speak with your doctor or naturopath about hormonal supplements to help rebalance your body. 

If your baby blues persist past the two-week mark, you may have to consider options for postpartum depression treatment.

PPD can bring some mothers to a point where they are unable to care for themselves or their baby, which is why it must be taken seriously and treated as soon as possible. In most cases of PPD, the common “baby blues” symptoms will intensify beyond what is healthy. Postpartum depression symptoms can range in severity, but include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by motherhood
  • Regularly bursting into tears for no apparent reason
  • Doubting your ability to look after your baby
  • Feeling disconnected from your baby
  • Insomnia even if your baby is asleep, or oversleeping when your baby needs you
  • Frequent mood swings; feeling calm and then sudden anger
  • Keeping away from friends and family
  • Losing interest in activities that you usually like
  • Depriving yourself of food, or eating too much 
  • Suicidal thoughts

Like many mood disorders, the causes of PPD are unknown, but the fact that both estrogen and progesterone levels drop abruptly after delivery is likely related. 

A new mother’s emotional state can be precarious. Sleep deprivation, overwhelm, anxiety about caring for your newborn, and feeling out of control of your life can all contribute to PPD.

The good news is that there are many treatment options and resources available to new mothers going through PPD. 

As with treatment for other mood disorders, there are changes in lifestyle that may help you out of your PPD, as well as medications (only by order of your OB/GYN or family doctor), and natural solutions. 

Why New Mamas Need to Keep their Magnesium Levels Up

Magnesium is beneficial to new mommies whether or not they experience PPD. 

First, it’s important to know that magnesium needs increase if you’re breastfeeding, along with your body’s demand for a range of nutrients. When breastfeeding, your body will drain magnesium stores otherwise available for your own tissues and bones and divert the mineral stores to your breastmilk. Your body is smart about dispensing the right amount of magnesium to feed your baby, but your own needs may not be met if you don’t get enough through diet and supplementation.

Some moms experience a lower milk supply for the second part of their cycle. At this time in the cycle, blood calcium levels are reduced, and for some women, it’s that blood calcium reduction that leads to a decreased milk supply. For these moms, it’s best to take calcium and magnesium supplements, so that both are absorbed to their full potential — calcium needs magnesium to absorb well. 

Magnesium is also vital to energy (ATP) production, something everyone can take advantage of. Whether you experience low energy as a symptom of PPD or not, it can help with both energy production and facilitating naturally calm sleep

Given the known benefits of magnesium for many of the side effects of depression, magnesium can likely help alleviate some of the symptoms of PPD. We know it helps with energy production and sleep, but it can also calm your nervous system, often quelling feelings of fear or anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a little magnesium boost may be just what you need. 

If you experience stress, headaches, and migraines, considering upping your magnesium intake through supplements (which can come in easy and convenient forms for mamas on the go) or magnesium-rich foods.

Tofu, some nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, some fish, leafy greens, and dark chocolate are all good sources of magnesium. Usually, these foods don’t have enough magnesium to meet daily needs, so supplements are never a bad idea.

Paternal Postpartum Depression

The feelings of being anxious or overwhelmed by the prospect of raising an infant are not limited to new mothers. 

Some new dads experience the same overwhelm, fatigue and sadness that mothers with PPD do. Younger dads with a history of depression are more at risk to develop what is sometimes called paternal postpartum depression. 

Paternal postpartum depression can have the same negative effects on relationships and the development of the baby as maternal postpartum depression and must be taken just as seriously. 

Much of the same resources and treatments that are available to mothers who struggle with PPD are also available to fathers. If you’re a father experiencing unusual mood swings, feelings of anxiety, or changes in eating and sleeping patterns, reach out to your health care professional for the support you need. 

When to Seek Further Care

Consult a doctor immediately if your symptoms…

  • Don’t fade after two weeks
  • Are getting worse
  • Make it hard for you to care for your baby
  • Make it hard to complete everyday tasks
  • Include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

Remember that asking for help does not make you weak. If it’s a step you need to take, it will be better for you and your baby in the long run. 

Other Treatment for PPD

By prescription of your doctor, psychiatrist or OB/GYN, you may choose to go on antidepressants. These can help lighten your mood but must be taken with caution by mothers who are breastfeeding. 

Generally, the risk of antidepressant medication transmission from mother to baby is quite low, so whether or not to nurse your infant while taking medication is a mother’s choice. 

Managing Baby Blues and PPD without Antidepressants 

New mommies  — do not lose hope! There are many adjustments you can make to your lifestyle in order to effectively manage your post-pregnancy mood issues. Below are 3 tips for a happy postpartum.

Sleep whenever possible.

Although a full night’s sleep may seem impossible, take any chance you can get for a nap or some quick downtime. This will diminish any feelings of irritability caused by fatigue or insomnia.

Maintain a balanced diet  — and don’t forget to eat!

Many new mothers become so focused on their baby or their feelings of being overwhelmed that they don’t nourish themselves properly. Make sure to feed yourself in a way that will provide your body with all the nutrients it needs. 

For example, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains (unprocessed, ideally), healthy proteins like beans, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds. 

It’s hard to prepare fresh foods when you’re constantly occupied with the baby, but you’ll feel better if you eat foods that keep your blood sugar levels steady, and support healthy hormones and healing — so try to get your fruits and veggies in at least a little bit. It’s not just your baby who needs nourishing!

Talk to people.

Whether you share feelings with your partner, other moms like you, or friends and family, interacting with others will help boost your mood and lessen feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and depression. Talk through what you’re experiencing and stay connected to your best supports!

If you know someone who may be experiencing PPD, remember to reach out and sensitively offer your support.

Although post-partum depression and anxiety often feel like a permanent reality, PPD can usually be eliminated within 6 months with proper care and treatment. Every woman is different, so listen to your body, and ask for help when you need it.

Please remember that postpartum depression is not a weakness. It’s not a failure and it’s never a mother’s fault. There’s a stigma around PPD because new mothers are expected to be filled with joy and excitement, and while those feelings are definitely part of having a baby, it is not uncommon to also experience the transition as extremely difficult. 

Sources

PPD/baby blues/paternal PPD – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617

PPD – https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/postpartum-depression

mg/ppd – https://www.healthymummy.com/why-new-mums-need-magnesium-in-their-diet/ 

Baby blues and treatment – https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/ask-heidi/week-3/baby-blues.aspx

Hormones after delivery – https://flo.health/being-a-mom/recovering-from-birth/postpartum-problems/hormones-after-birth

PPD vs Baby Blues – https://flo.health/being-a-mom/recovering-from-birth/emotions-after-delivery/baby-blues-or-postpartum-depression

Antidepressants while nursing – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267169/

https://naturalcalm.ca/magnesium-for-fertility-pregnancy-breastfeeding-and-healthy-babies/

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