3 Ways to Boost Mental Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum

Last year, I was deep in an overwhelmed momma funk. Being sleep-deprived with a five-month-old plus four other kids to care for and entertain for the summer had me gasping for air– literally. I felt like I couldn’t leave the house because the world out there was scary, yet I felt trapped at home at the same time. I began having panic attacks while driving, scared I was going to crash. I cried all the time and the joy was sucked out of me. I knew I needed help.

I went to see an integrative nurse practitioner, Maureen Scott of Whole Health Charlotte, in hopes of overcoming my postpartum depression, anxiety, and exhaustion naturally. Maureen utilizes a whole-body approach to address spiritual, physical and mental health by using conventional practices and natural remedies. Thankfully, her knowledge and experience in helping other moms did the trick, and I felt much more like myself within just a week of following the personalized protocol she designed for me. I knew I was improving when I could take my crew of five to the grocery store, and I felt calm!

It’s amazing what happens when we feed our body the fuel it needs. Now I love sharing these simple tools to help new moms learn how to get relief and find deeper answers.

Get blood work done to know your deficient areas

I came into Maureen’s office ready to jump on the medicine train for quick relief, but instead she said, “Let’s get some blood work done and see what’s going on first.” She took her time to talk with me about stress relief, deep breathing and my diet, and she instantly noticed some red flags from previous blood work I’d had done.

Getting a blood panel done is an easy way (and insurance should cover it!) to find out what you need for supplement and nutrition, which then can help boost your mental health. Checking for common deficiencies such as iron, vitamin D, vitamin B, magnesium, zinc, and folate levels along with thyroid function can help reveal a physical reason for why we are feeling exhausted and stressed. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can drain us of our own stores of nutrients. If we are lacking important nutrients because we aren’t absorbing or getting enough of them, that affects our brain and energy levels. Supplementing with those much-needed nutrients can make a huge difference!

Know your MTHFR gene status

You may have heard about MTHFR in your Internet travels. The MTHFR gene is basically responsible for converting folic acid to folate for our bodies to use. However, about 40% of people have a variation and cannot process folic acid and detox as effectively. Therefore, our bodies and brains are left lacking important nutrients we need for our mental and physical health– particularly vitamin B12 and folate. Knowing your MTHFR gene status is super important, because you need to know which type of vitamins are most beneficial for your body to actually absorb, as well as things to avoid.

MTHFR can be linked to miscarriages, clotting disorders, spina bifida, lip and tongue ties, and other birth defects during pregnancy if the right vitamins aren’t taken preventatively. However, it is equally important to know for our own mental health! Knowing gives us another avenue to address the root of the issue, as MTHFR is linked to mental illness.

Having low folate and vitamin B levels can be a marker for MTHFR in blood work, which was a red flag that prompted Maureen to test me. I was able to test for MTHFR with a simple blood test at my provider’s office, but you can also test yourself and mailed in to a company for results.

Take fish oil

Taking fish oil during pregnancy and postpartum is amazingly beneficial, not just for the baby’s brain health, but also for the momma! We hear of the importance of DHA often for our growing baby, yet forget that our brains, that help us care for these smart babies after birth, are important, too.

The way Maureen explained it to me as I sat across from her in near tears wanting to feel “normal” again was that as our bodies are developing our baby’s brains, they use up our own stores of fatty acids. We have got to replenish these healthy fatty acids for our own mental health! “During fetal development of the brain, EPA and DHA is critical, and if the diet is deficient in these essential fatty acids, there can be an increase risk of PPD,” says Maureen.

EPA fish oil is particularly shown in studies to be amazing for our mood and mental health. It can be used as a preventative for PPD if taken during pregnancy. Maureen states, “Research shows that mothers who took an increase dose of omega-3 during pregnancy reported less stress and had lower levels of stress hormones, which is very beneficial to the baby.” It also can be used after birth to restore those fatty acids and help find relief from mood disorders, like it did for me.

If you are a vegan or wish to avoid fish, you can obtain these important fatty acids with an algae supplement.

Of course, I am not a medical provider and am not giving you medical advice. The way to boost your mental health naturally starts with a visit to a provider with knowledge in this area– one who will look for keys to your personal health in lab work and by looking carefully at your whole-body symptoms. When we as moms take care of ourselves, searching for answers to the cause of our problems just as we would for our baby if they had an issue, we become much healthier. And that health affects how we parent these little ones we love.

There are many things we can do to boost our mental and physical health, perhaps even to prevent PPD and anxiety all together! It is worth the extra effort to care for ourselves, but know that if you still struggle, don’t be afraid to seek further help with counseling and medication as needed.