Disclaimer: Postpartum Depression is a VERY serious illness that must not be taken lightly. If you are experiencing signs of postpartum depression, talk to your doctor immediately before attempting any type of treatment on your own. This is my story of how I was able to naturally combat postpartum depression. What works for me may not work for you, so please talk to your medical professional!
One of the main things on my mind during my pregnancy and after the birth of my son was the threat of postpartum depression. This pregnancy was my fourth, and so far, I was 3 for 3 in experiencing mild to severe episodes of PPD after childbirth.
The severity of these episodes ranged from tearful and negative, all the way to being unable to get out of bed and deciding my children were all better off without me. It’s really hard for me to admit that, but the crushing sadness and feeling of being a total and complete failure would take me to dark places that I never imagined I would be.
I took anti-depressants for 2 of my 3 postpartum periods to combat these feelings, and I pulled through each time. The drugs were a lifesaver at the time, but I knew with my fourth that I didn’t want to have to rely on drugs if there was anything I could do to avoid them.
My first three pregnancies happened during a time period when I was eating unhealthy food and not getting enough exercise (read my comparison here). My fourth pregnancy happened during a new era of my life when I had become healthy and fit. Before conceiving our baby, I did tons of research on what to eat before, during, and after pregnancy. My research indicated that just like “normal” depression, post-partum depression clearly seemed to be positively impacted by diet and exercise. (For a comprehensive guide to this research, get a copy of my ebook Fit To Be Pregnant: 12 Steps to the Healthy, Comfortable, and Fit Pregnancy of Your Dreams)
My entire fourth pregnancy was so much more pleasant than my first three. I felt in control of my body, I felt energized, and after my morning sickness subsided, I was able to eat a very healthy diet and kept up a pretty intense exercise routine up until the week of the birth. I recovered in record time, easier than any of the other three, even though I was in my mid 30’s and had a difficult birth (and first all-natural).
I kept an eye out for the tell-tale signs of PPD for me: a “buzzing” feeling, numbness in my extremities, a physical sensation in my gut that sort of felt like I was being crushed from the inside, overwhelming sadness, and negative thought loops. I am only 5 months postpartum as I write this, and I won’t say I never experienced any of these, but when I did, I was able to keep everything under control and recover almost immediately. Here is how I have managed.
As soon as I was able to get back up on my feet, I began taking my baby on daily walks during the time period that I used to work out, so it would stick as a routine. Once I hit 5 weeks, I slowly re-incorporated my old routine of high-intensity interval training as well as strength training (see my post-partum fitness routine here). Exercise gives me that daily boost of the good-feeling chemicals that combat depression and sadness, keeping hormones in check. Not to mention, it makes me feel good about myself and increases my self-confidence.
I have been dedicated throughout my pregnancy as well as after the birth to eating the most nutrient-dense foods that I possibly can. The more variety of nutrients I can eat, the better chance I have of not having any deficiencies that might contribute to depression. This means that even when I take a weekend vacation and indulge on lemon poppyseed pancakes in the morning, I still make my lunch a giant salad full of colorful vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. It also means that my son is receiving all of those awesome vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients through breastmilk that he needs to develop properly. I also take a cod liver oil supplement, which has been linked to reduced episodes of post-partum depression  and I believe has been a huge factor in my lack of PPD symptoms.
While I might indulge on sweets or high-calorie meals sometimes, I do have a list of “never” foods – trans fats, food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, refined sugar, preservatives and any other chemicals that are added to processed foods. Many of these processed foods are being linked to depression and anxiety in study after study , , and I already know that I feel horrible when I eat them. Sugar also uses up our stores of B vitamins, which help to regulate our mood.
Everyday, even if I do not exercise, I get outside with the baby for a good-old fashioned dose of serotonin-boosting vitamin d in the form of sunshine. Sunshine and Vitamin D also have the added benefit of helping baby to sleep better at night .
Possibly nothing has helped me more with my symptoms of post-partum depression than learning and practicing meditation. In meditation, you learn to become aware of thoughts but not to associate with them or get wrapped up in them. This is done by sitting still for a set amount of time, and just watching your thoughts come and go. Soon you learn that no emotion is permanent, no thought is fact, and this helps to separate yourself from the drama of negative thoughts. I sit for 20 minutes a day (I started with 5 and worked up each week) and just close my eyes, practicing letting thoughts go as they come. This has helped me see the negative thoughts that are associated with post-partum depression as what they really are – just thoughts, stemming from electric pulses in my brain, rather than true reality. Studies are also coming out linking mindful meditation with lowering stress and anxiety in women during pregnancy and post-childbirth. 
I loved and would highly recommend the book Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. Also, 10% Happier by Dan Harris was a great read from a skeptic’s point of view.
Ha ha ha, right? Sleep with an infant? I will admit, the days after nights I don’t sleep well, I wake up teary, negative, and sad. And there have been many nights/days like this. But sleeping has been better this time around for me, not only because I get a higher quality of sleep because of all of the above, but because I embraced co-sleeping when my son needed it instead of fighting it. All my babies have been different, but I recognized within a couple of weeks of Austin’s birth that he needed to be near me, pretty much always. He took a longer time adjusting to life outside the womb than the others. When I let him sleep with me, he would sleep in 4-5 hour blocks. When I tried to force him into the bassinet, he would sleep in 15-30 minute blocks.
I was also lucky to have my husband who would offer to sleep with Austin on his chest the first several hours of the night so that I could get that much more solid sleep.
At 4 months Austin started showing us that he needed to sleep alone in a crib. We slowly started using the crib (in our bedroom) and I am happy to report he is now sleeping through the night!
I’m so relieved to have found these ways to beat post-partum depression so I could fully enjoy this time with my baby. Did you have post-partum depression? How did you manage it?