Postpartum Depression and Naturopathic Medicine

May 5, 2016
postpartum depression naturopathic medicine, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor pregnancy

Postpartum depression can only be treated with medication, right?


It can be approached holistically, if you have some time and patience. 

If PPD is not treated properly, it can affect your overall functioning. While untreated PPD may cause health and developmental problems in your baby, and to be honest, it can affect your whole family. 

May moms are reluctant to seek help when it comes to PPD because they’re unable to recognize their own mental health symptoms, and accessing care can be difficult. An easy screening tool that will help you determine is PPD is affecting you is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.  

Many treatments for PPD are emerging. Antidepressants (ex. SSRIs) are commonly used as the first-line treatment, but do have a range of side effects that many moms hope to avoid. Furthermore, some moms discontinue taking their antidepressants because they worry about transmission into breastmilk. 

Naturopathic treatments often focus on how PPD symptoms are affecting your quality of life, but also aim to discover the underlying cause of postpartum depression.

When I work with women who have PPD, my treatments can range between dietary and lifestyle changes, counselling, acupuncture, botanical medicine, and more! I give you all the info, but it’s up to you to determine what you have time for. 

Holistic Treatment of Postpartum Depression

Lavender and Postpartum Depression

A study was conducted on the effects of lavender during the postpartum period. Mothers in the intervention group applied lavender essential oil on their palms and rubbed them together throughout the day and inhaled the lavender scent. They did this for 4 weeks post-birth, and were followed up at the 2 week, 1 month, and 3 month mark (post-birth) using the EPDS. Results demonstrated that although stress and depression rates naturally decrease after birth, the decrease was higher in the lavender group.

Iron and Postpartum Depression

Many women go into pregnancy with low iron levels. It’s not a surprise considering that an iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in women – thanks to our period! Plus ferritin (the storage form of iron) has an optimal level. Which means that even if you fall within the ‘normal’ range, your stores may not be optimal. 

When you’re pregnant, your body needs more hemoglobin (as your blood volume is increasing), so it shouldn’t be a surprise that you need more iron! Blood loss after birth (ex. postpartum hemorrhage and c-section) may also cause iron stores to decrease. 

It seems like the odds are stacked against you, right?

A recent review examined the effect of iron deficiency and postpartum depression. Eight out of ten studies found higher risk for PPD in anemic women. Women who had low ferritin in the postpartum period (not pregnancy) was associated with an increase risk in PPD. Giving iron in the postpartum decreased PPD risk. 

For example, one study showed that supplementing iron in moms with PPD improved depressive symptoms. Mothers experiencing PPD (based on the EPDS) 7 days after delivery were supplemented with iron. After 6 weeks, the mothers took the EPDS again to determine if anything changed with supplementation. Results demonstrated that mothers who supplemented with iron had a significantly lower EPDS score compared to placebo.

So what does this mean for you? Well, you should get your ferritin levels checked before pregnancy, but definitely after pregnancy. Working with a ND, will help determine how much iron you should be taking, when, and the best form (because I’m sure you don’t have time for constipation). 

Vitamin D and Postpartum Depression

Low vitamin D status was shown to be associated with postpartum depression, compared to women not suffering from postpartum depression (as measured by the EPDS). Because vitamin D can be protective, it’s imperative that serum levels are measured during pregnancy and supplementation is done as required.

Omega-3 and Postpartum Depression

A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation is considered a risk factor for PPD. It is thought that supplementing with EPA-rich oil during pregnancy can reduce depression and PPD once your child is born. Taking only DHA may help with reducing PPD in women who are not breastfeeding. DHA does help build a healthy brain in children, so if you are supplementing – be sure to choose a formula with both EPA and DHA. 

Acupuncture and Postpartum Depression

New evidence is showing that acupuncture can be helpful when it comes to PPD. I personally love acupuncture for everything, but huge barrier is carving out the time to get a 30 minute treatment. Nevertheless, it’s an option and perhaps something to have done if you have help with childcare.

Acupuncture is more than just inserting needles in different areas in the body. It’s thought to influence your neuroendocrine and immune systems through regulating different neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and glucocorticoids. It can regulate gene expression and new research is suggesting that it may actually have antidepressive effects. 

While we don’t know the true cause of PPD, it’s thought that a drop in hormones, specifically estrogen, can lead to depressive symptoms. A 2018 review showed that in 4 studies, estrogen levels increased after acupuncture. 

If acupuncture is something that you might consider trying, book an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor or Licensed Acupuncturist. The way they use acupuncture, may be a bit different than a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist.  

Sleep and Postpartum Depression

In case you are reading this before you give birth, now is the best time to rest and get all your sleep in. A study showed that prenatal sleep disorders in pregnant women may actually increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. There are many remedies out there that can help with sleep for instance acupuncture, magnesium, and even balancing your blood sugar before bed!

When dealing with lack of sleep post pregnancy, you may want to consider supporting your adrenal glands, evaluating your breastfeeding expectations (especially as your baby gets older), and seeking help when needed (ie. partner, family, doula).  

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression

Breastfeeding has been associated with positive maternal outcomes. Despite experiencing many stressors upon giving birth, breastfeeding protects mothers as it induces calm feelings, decreases stress, and increases nurturing behaviour.

Yoga and Postpartum Depression

Yoga has been shown to be a complimentary therapy for mothers experiencing PPD. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Hamilton Depression Scale. Mothers in the yoga group practiced twice a week for 8 weeks and improved at a significantly faster rate on measures of depression, anxiety, well-being, and health-related quality of life.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Postpartum Depression

Cognitive behavioural therapy will identify negative thinking patterns and assess the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. When you experience depression, you might experience negative thoughts that carry significant meaning. This meaning might be relation to the past, future, about yourself or your world.

CBT helps you change thee negative thoughts, so ultimately you can change how you view and feel about yourself, and change your behaviour. 

A review looked at CBT in moms with PPD and found that 7 practices were commonly used in treatment – pyschoeducation, thought restructuring, problem-solving, behaviour management, goal setting and achieving, stress management, and relaxation. The most common were psychoeducation and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs. While CBT was found to be an effective treatment for PPD it can be time consuming and may require adjunctive childcare. 

Next Steps

You don’t need to go through PPD alone! Check out the Canadian Mental Health Association website for more information about PPD, or book an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor start implementing the best therapies for you, so you can feel great again!


Li, S., Zhong, W., Peng, W. and Jiang, G. (2018). Effectiveness of acupuncture in postpartum depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acupuncture in Medicine, 36(5), pp.295-301.

Polmanteer, R., Keefe, R. and Brownstein-Evans, C. (2018). Trauma-informed care with women diagnosed with postpartum depression: a conceptual framework. Social Work in Health Care, pp.1-16

Schiller, C., Meltzer-Brody, S. and Rubinow, D. (2014). The role of reproductive hormones in postpartum depression. CNS Spectrums, 20(01), pp.48-59.

Sheikh, M., Hantoushzadeh, S., Shariat, M., Farahani, Z. and Ebrahiminasab, O. (2015). The efficacy of early iron supplementation on postpartum depression, a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. European Journal of Nutrition, 56(2), pp.901-908.

Stamou, G., García-Palacios, A. and Botella, C. (2018). Cognitive-Behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy for the treatment of post-natal depression: a narrative review. BMC Psychology, 6(1).

Wassef, A., Nguyen, Q. and St-André, M. (2018). Anaemia and depletion of iron stores as risk factors for postpartum depression: a literature review. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, pp.1-10.

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