Postpartum Depression: What’s Behind the Diagnosis?

Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. ~Philipus A. Paracelsus

I have often exclaimed, “I could really care less about a diagnosis!” I want to know the mechanisms that are working behind the diagnosis.  Who is this person in front of me?  What is their story? As Paracelsus stated, “Medicine is involved in the process of life that need to be understood and then guided.”

This brings me to the topic at hand: Postpartum Depression – or “PPD” – and in particular, a woman I saw in my practice earlier this month.  She had come to me from her “primary care provider” (a funny term for me, as I have always been under the belief that we should all be primarily in charge of our own care) and been told she has PPD and would need to be on an anti-depressant to treat it.  She wanted a second opinion as she was breast feeding her 4-month-old and didn’t want to risk the baby’s health.

During our session and my clinical intake, this is what I learned about her experience and history.  Shortly after the birth of her third child, she started to feel despondent and almost apathetic towards her children and most of her life.  She reported feeling ashamed and embarrassed that she was having a “short fuse” and feelings of anger towards not only her baby, but towards her 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.  She was battling her pregnancy weight, which had come off easier with the first two children, and she was had feelings of resentment towards her husband, who worked over 60 hours a week and traveled for 2 nights a week.  She was the sole caregiver, bill payer, house cleaner, grocery shopper  and “stay at home” mother for the family unit.  She had many passions including art and music, but had not time to experience and play in them.  She was too exhausted to exercise or find social time with friends.

During my laboratory assessment, in order to rule out something serious, everything came out “normal” or “within normal limits”.  This finding, along with her history and clinical presentation, guided me to do a couple of in-office tests to understand the health of her adrenal glands or “stress” glands.  Sure enough, in a sense, they were SHOT,  and she and they needed tremendous support.  If your adrenal glands are constantly asked to work overtime, the unending tide of stress hormones uses up your reserve. You may notice that that you’re increasingly overwhelmed, suffer from unaccountable brain fog or just feel strangely tired all the time.  What is also common in this situation is that the thyroid, which controls metabolism, will start to under-function as well, despite what your TSH says.  In other words, your labs will be normal, but you are not.

Conceiving, carrying and having a baby then caring for a completely dependent infant takes a colossal amount of energy, and in our modern day, with the collective stressors these modern times pack, women sometimes are not getting into a degree of recovery from the toll of pregnancy and childbirth.  This is where “diagnosing and treating” needs to turn to “understanding and caring”.  This woman needed help; she needed sleep and nutrient support and she needed to be able to talk about her feelings in a safe place where no one would judge her.  We worked closely together in the next couple months to make sure she got “just what the naturopathic doctor ordered” and she began to feel a sense of relief and balance, allowing her to enjoy her family and her life again.  More importantly, she was able to shed this diagnosis of PPD!

I see cases like this all too often.  Don’t get me wrong – due to the tragic headlines and real life situations where lives have been taken and families shattered, this needs to be taken seriously and each situation viewed in an individual manner. However, more often than not, the new mother turns out to be a quart low on care herself and suffering from deregulated adrenal glands.

For information on finding a doctor who might help put the “care” back in health care by getting behind the diagnosis, please visit realizehealth.org

special note from the editors: At The Chalkboard we believe everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach.  If you yourself have experienced success in healing from post-partum or have helpful tips from your own pregnancy we welcome you to share about it below.

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