Baby Blues Got You Down? Look to Your Gut Environment for Support
You’ve been waiting for this moment for nine long months—and after the herculean task of giving birth (no matter how it unfolds), your beautiful newborn baby is secure in your arms and you can finally settle into enjoying and relishing the bliss of motherhood. By all accounts, this should be the happiest time in your life, so why do you feel so down?
The good news is that you’re not alone...far from it. Up to 80% of moms experience some form of the “baby blues,” a postpartum physical and emotional shift that includes mood swings, inability to sleep, and temporary feelings of weepiness, inadequacy, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, and overwhelm.
For moms that do encounter this sudden (and distressing) change in mood, baby blues often set in around 4-5 days after giving birth and last a couple of weeks, and they can make you feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster: one minute you’re exhilarated and blissfully content, and the next, you’re weeping uncontrollably, feeling like you can’t possibly handle your new role as mom.
But, there’s a reason why all this is happening, and with a little self-care and a lot of gut love, you should be able to smooth the rough edges of your first few weeks as a new mom.
Changing Hormones, Bacteria, and Metabolism...Oh My!
Towards the end of pregnancy, your body is bursting with the hormones estrogen and progesterone—the highest levels you’ll ever have in your life, in fact. But, as soon as you deliver your baby and the placenta, your hormone levels plummet and your body begins its relatively fast (considering how long it took to get to month nine in the first place!) transition back to its pre-pregnancy state.
This precipitous hormone drop alone is enough to put you in a funk, but that’s not the only thing at work. During pregnancy, a woman’s body also undergoes intense immunological, metabolic, and microbial changes, many of which begin with the bacteria in her gut.
As the third trimester rolls around, the microbes that make up your gut microbiome are undergoing some serious shifts. As opposed to the first trimester when the makeup of your bacteria was similar to that of a healthy, non-pregnant woman, in the latter stages of pregnancy the composition of your microbiome changes to favor bacterial strains associated with weight gain, decreased insulin sensitivity, and temporary inflammation—all factors that support your baby’s growth and development and prepare your body for labor and lactation.1
You see, throughout pregnancy your body goes in and out of pro- and anti-inflammatory states, depending on the phase of prenatal development. As you naturally get ready to give birth, your immune system sends an influx of cells into the smooth muscles of your uterus to initiate a temporary inflammatory process that promotes contractions of the uterus—enabling delivery of both the baby and the placenta.2 Not only is this completely normal, but it’s absolutely necessary for a successful birth!
So, how might this affect your postpartum emotions? Well, some of these changes your body goes through in late pregnancy can also be risk factors for experiencing the baby blues in the first few weeks after birth, as your body (and your gut bacteria) work on getting back to business as usual.
Indeed, studies indicate that inflammatory immune system messengers called cytokines tend to be higher in women who experience postpartum mood disturbances, indicating a post-birth “rebound” reaction as the immune system (80% of which resides in the gut) kicks into high gear on its way back to normal.3 Similarly, elevated levels of inflammatory markers like homocysteine and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein after delivery are associated with the baby blues and other low mood issues.4,5
If it seems ironic that the very factors that enabled you to carry and deliver your healthy baby in the first place are the same ones that might dampen your spirits during this special time, don’t worry—you can take steps to maintain a joyful balance during those first few weeks.
Take Care of Your Gut for Postpartum Joy
Chances are you already know that the friendly flora in your gut support your physical and emotional health in an incredible number of ways, including maintaining robust digestion, energy levels, metabolism, and positive moods.
But did you know that, during the postpartum weeks and months, beneficial bacteria can support your mood by helping to regulate and manufacture important neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin, GABA, cortisol, and oxytocin—all of which have a huge impact on your day to day frame of mind? Indeed, approximately 95% of your body’s serotonin (the “happy” chemical) is manufactured in your gut, and a lack of the necessary microbes to perform this feat can lead to mood issues, problems sleeping, and even memory lapses (hello, mommy brain!).6
Your good bacteria also work hard to support your immune system, 80% of which resides in your gut. This means that a healthy microbiome can keep your immune system from overreacting in the days and weeks after birth, helping you avoid some of the emotional distress that can result from out of balance immune function.
Because the bacteria that live in your digestive tract are working hard to get back to their pre-pregnancy state during the first few months after birth, this is the time to give your gut the support it needs. After all, do you really want the bacteria associated with weight gain that proliferated during your third trimester sticking around any longer than they have to?
Research indicates that even at one month postpartum, many moms’ microbiomes still resemble those of late pregnancy, which could be a contributing factor to baby blues and feeling down. Give your gut some love with PRO-Moms, a probiotic formula designed to provide pregnant and lactating moms with the beneficial bacteria they need to maintain physical and emotional balance.7 And here’s the bonus—taking a high-quality probiotic supplement also replenishes your breast milk with friendly flora that will seed your baby’s microbiome for a lifetime of health.
Banish the Baby Blues With Self-Care
The postnatal period is a vulnerable time in your life: you’ve just gone through one of the most physically exhausting experiences possible, and—whether you’re a first time mom or welcoming baby number four—adjusting to life with a newborn is fraught with challenges. Add to that recovery from birth (sometimes from major surgery, like a C-section), lack of sleep, the breastfeeding learning curve, round the clock newborn care, and balancing other children and family obligations, and it’s no wonder that so many new moms feel sad and overwhelmed after having a baby.
Fortunately, the baby blues do start to dissipate after a couple of weeks (Important note: if you are experiencing severe symptoms that don’t seem to be getting better, speak to your doctor right away!), but you can speed them along by following a few simple self-care steps:
1. Ask for help. A lot of new moms have a hard time asking for help, especially when they’re already feeling inadequate, but if there’s ever a time to reach out, this is it! Ask your partner to chip in on diaper changes and chores, request that well-intentioned family members bring meals, and hire that cleaning service you’ve been wanting to try—sometimes just lightening your load will lighten your mood.
2. Prioritize sleep. You’ve probably heard it a million times, ”sleep when the baby sleeps,” but it’s amazing how easily you can get distracted picking up around the house, zoning out to your favorite television show, or checking your email as soon as your little one goes down for a nap. While it’s tempting to sneak in some of those mindless tasks while your little one sleeps, sleep deprivation can really make your mood tank, so these first few weeks should be all about resting whenever you can.
3. Breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed! Not only does breastfeeding trigger the release of oxytocin—the hormone that promotes relaxation, decreases stress and anxiety, and fosters feelings of bonding and love—but it controls the inflammatory response that can lead to feelings of despondency.8 In one study, women who exclusively breastfed their babies from birth showed significant decreases in feelings of low mood at three months postpartum.9 You may encounter some bumps in the road on your breastfeeding journey, so seek help from a lactation counselor if you need to—the benefits to both you and your baby are nothing short of astounding!
4. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods. Research shows that postpartum mood issues are strongly associated with temporary inflammation in the body, so incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet can have a favorable effect on your mood and overall outlook. Stay away from triggers like sugar, fried foods, and refined grains, and add in green, leafy vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids to keep sadness at bay.
5. Don’t forget your B vitamins. Several of the B vitamins (including folate, B6, and B12) help to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can lead to mood destabilization when it builds up in the body.4 Although consuming foods rich in B vitamins can help, a food-based or coenzymated B complex can give you a more immediate mood and energy boost. Even better? Some strains of beneficial bacteria actually produce several of the B vitamins, so including a probiotic supplement like PRO-Moms can really round out your vitamin regimen and improve how well nutrients are being absorbed into your body!
Bringing a baby into this world is one of the most extraordinary, magical, transformative experiences you’ll ever have, and while some mild postpartum baby blues may be inevitable during this time of transition, taking care of yourself and the mighty microbes in your gut will enable you to weather the storms and celebrate this new chapter of life with happiness, health, and gratitude.
1. Nuriel-Ohayon, M., Neuman, H., & Koren, O. (2016). Microbial Changes during Pregnancy, Birth, and Infancy. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01031
2. Mor, G., Cardenas, I., Abrahams, V., & Guller, S. (2011). Inflammation and pregnancy: the role of the immune system at the implantation site. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,1221(1), 80-87. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05938.x
3. Boufidou, F., Lambrinoudaki, I., Argeitis, J., Zervas, I. M., Pliatsika, P., Leonardou, A. A., . . . Nikolaou, C. (2009). CSF and plasma cytokines at delivery and postpartum mood disturbances. Journal of Affective Disorders,115(1-2), 287-292. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2008.07.008
4. Aishwarya, S., Rajendiren, S., Kattimani, S., Dhiman, P., Haritha, S., & Ananthanarayanan, P. (2013). Homocysteine and serotonin: Association with postpartum depression. Asian Journal of Psychiatry,6(6), 473-477. doi:10.1016/j.ajp.2013.05.007
5. Liu, H., Zhang, Y., Gao, Y., & Zhang, Z. (2016). Elevated levels of Hs-CRP and IL-6 after delivery are associated with depression during the 6 months post partum. Psychiatry Research,243, 43-48. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2016.02.022
6. Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Kawai, M., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Suda, K., . . . Rokutan, K. (2016). Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota preserves the diversity of the gut microbiota and relieves abdominal dysfunction in healthy medical students exposed to academic stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 82(12), 3649-3658. doi:10.1128/aem.04134-15
7. Koren, O., Goodrich, J., Cullender, T., Spor, A., Laitinen, K., Bäckhed, H. K., . . . Ley, R. (2012). Host Remodeling of the Gut Microbiome and Metabolic Changes during Pregnancy. Cell,150(3), 470-480. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2012.07.008
8. Kendall-Tackett, K. (2007). A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health. International Breastfeeding Journal,2(1), 6. doi:10.1186/1746-4358-2-6
9. Figueiredo, B., Canário, C., & Field, T. (2013). Breastfeeding is negatively affected by prenatal depression and reduces postpartum depression. Psychological Medicine,44(05), 927-936. doi:10.1017/s0033291713001530
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.