causes of post partum depression

Causes of Post Partum Depression – Chronic Stress

The medical community by and large does a fairly decent job preparing a woman for childbirth. We’ve all heard the long held to advice from the medical community for the expectant mum of “don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, get plenty of rest, eat healthy.” But beyond that they really don’t go into really helping a woman modify their lifestyle so there pregnancy is going to be easy and the delivery will also be equally easy. If the right choices are not made prior to pregnancy, its possible that we might overlook some of the main causes of post partum depression.


Chronic Stress Cycle


One of the most insidious things that happens to a woman that can completely change the experience of the pregnancy as well as the outcome for both mother and child is when a woman is under chronic stress. What I mean by that is typically if a woman gets pregnant and she’s been dealing with a high level of chronic stress, her pregnancy is going to be quite different from somebody that isn’t suffering from stress.


Hormonal Response by Trimester


causes of post partum depressionLet’s take it trimester by trimester. In your first trimester, your body is already shunting a lot of the raw material that the body uses to synthesise both stress and reproductive hormones towards the stress response. What I mean by that is that the stress response is fuelled by the raw material cholesterol. If the body is shunting most of that cholesterol toward the stress response but doesn’t give an adequate amount to synthesising the right reproductive hormones at the right time, it’s going to have a physiological impact on the new mum, and this is typically manifested when they have a very difficult first trimester punctuated by frequent episodes of morning sickness, mood swings, all of the things that we know go with a difficult first trimester of pregnancy. And usually it’s because the body is still stuck in a chronic stress pattern.


On the surface for most women, once they get past that first trimester they start to think that everything’s OK, that we’re not really going to have any more issues that we suffered from in the first three months. Well that may be true, but there are some things going on in the woman’s and the baby’s body that have some repercussions down the road.


Adrenal Meltdown


During that first trimester, the umbilical cord starts to secrete about 450 milligrams of progesterone a day. And that progesterone is designed to provide the hormonal raw materials that the baby needs to continue to develop. One of the interesting things about progesterone is what I call a pinch hit hormone. And what I mean by that is, if you look at the biochemical pathways that progesterone can follow within what they call the hormonal cascade, it can be transformed into a number of different hormones depending on the needs of the body. If you’re still stuck in a chronic stress pattern the body is going to take that progesterone and transform it or rather conjugate it, into stress hormones. It’s going to be denied to the baby. So the baby is now starting to experience some hormonal shortages itself because the mum is robbing this hormonal raw material to feed her own stress response.


Typically speaking, nobody really recognizes this because the mum is feeling good, and by the third trimester mum’s evenn feeling great. What’s happening now is that the baby’s adrenals have not developed and they are starting to churn out cortisol and maybe epinephrine to feed the baby and the mum’s stress response. In order to do that they are not going to remain those tiny adrenals that the baby needs. They’re going to start growing to be able to meet the demand the mom is placing on them. And mom is starting to feel better all the time. By the third trimester she is feeling or awesome.


Onset of Post Partum Depression at Birth


Unfortunately all of that comes to a screeching halt when the baby is born. For two reasons. First of all when the baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut all of them mom’s additional stress support is gone. Frequently once that hormonal support disappears she now has to rely on her own still depleted adrenal glands to be able to deal with that high stress load. One of the frequent causes of depression is a chronic stress response pattern. Now here she is back at square one before she got pregnant and it’s not unusual for women like that to eventually experience postpartum depression.


To make matters worse now she’s got this additional workload of the newborn, who pops out of the uterus and is delivered with greatly enlarged adrenal glands. Unfortunately one of the manifestations enlarged adrenals in a newborn is a very fussy baby. So put all the pieces of the scenario together. Now what are you looking at? You are now looking at a depleted mum who is probably either in or at the point of adrenal exhaustion having an increased workload that is being aggravated and exaggerated by this very fussy baby that unfortunately her own lifestyle choices helped to create.


Is Post Partum Depression Caused by Lifestyle Choices?


So what’s the point of all of this? It’s that when a woman decides she wants to have a child she has the look of the entire dietary and lifestyle spectrum of her life and make sure she identifies all of those pieces that could contribute to a chronic stress pattern and make some changes so that she doesn’t wind up experiencing what I have described here!