In Chinese Medicine (CM), there is much written about the clinical experiences of physicians’ treatment of depression and other mental/emotional health disorders.
The understanding of how to treat and – more importantly – prevent postnatal depression comes from our unique understanding of human physiology and the inherent interconnection with our minds, emotions, and body.
Here's an insight into the way Chinese Medicine treats postnatal depression.
Depression, Qi & Blood
In Chinese medicine, mental, emotional, and cognitive elements are termed Shen, which is often translated as either ‘spirit’, ‘mind’, or ‘consciousness’. The Heart is said to the be the organ where our Shen resides, and this is due to its role in the circulation and production of Xue (Blood). So the health of our shen is intimately linked with the quality and health of Xue.
During pregnancy, a great deal of Qi and Xue is required by the mother in order to nourish the growth and development of the foetus, and so her requirements for these vital substances are increased.
During labour, a great deal of Qi is required, as this is the energy a birthing mother needs to bring her newborn into the world; this may lead to a degree of Qi deficiency developing. Usually there is a degree of blood loss also, which may lead to a degree of Xue deficiency also.
Breastfeeding also is said to deplete Xue and Jing (essence), as breastmilk is produced from these vital substances also (which is why sometimes breastfeeding problems can be easily addressed by nourishing Xue/Jing).
If there is a degree of Qi and/or Xue deficiency, this may lead to a manifestation of signs and symptoms that equate to what is called postnatal depression in the West: lowered mood, general feeling of malaise, tiredness, etc.
Using either or both treatments of acupuncture and/or herbal medicine, a CM practitioner can easily build up the mother’s levels of Qi/Xue to quite literally lift her spirits and allow her to get on with the important task of nurturing and loving her newborn baby, itself providing the necessary foundations for good health and happiness in the child.
Postnatal Depression & Cold
There is another aspect which is often seen clinically, especially with most mothers giving birth in hospitals, and that is a pattern referred to as ‘Cold invasion of the Uterus’. During labour, the mother is said to be ‘open’, and because all energy is directed at allowing the baby out, and due to depletion of Qi, it is said that Cold invades the body and lodges in the uterus, thus congealing the flow of Xue through the body, blocking the channels, preventing the flow of Qi and damaging Yang.
This is even more so if labour requires surgical interventions such as a caesarean section or forceps (cold stainless steel instruments).
Again, the effects of this are easily treated with acupuncture, moxibustion (the application of heat using Chinese Mugwort), and herbal medicine.
Prevention of Postnatal Depression
Chinese Medicine’s forte of course is prevention of illness and promotion of wellness. Qi and Xue deficiency can be addressed by care throughout the pregnancy with a trusted practitioner who works alongside a mothers primary care-giver (a midwife or obstetrician). Acupuncture treatment focuses on treating the mother as an individual and providing care based on her individual needs.
In preparation for labour in the third trimester, a Chinese medicine practitioner will begin by preparing the mother and her body for labour – essentially increasing her reserves of Qi and Xue.
It also involves working towards creating a sense of peace and calm by ‘calming the Shen’, not only providing the necessary emotional and mental state to get through the ritual of birthing, but also preventing the onset of postnatal depression.
By preparing for labour in this way we also work towards preventing the need for medical intervention, thus preventing the chance of surgical intervention, leading to Cold invading the uterus and congealing the flow of Qi and Xue.
Acupuncture & NLP Can Assist With Postnatal Depression
Whilst acupuncture is certainly able to help with the physiological aspects of building Qi and Xue, calming Shen and harmonising the emotions, there are other methods that work alongside Chinese Medicine to help prepare mentally and emotionally for birthing and mothering a newborn. I have found that NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is particularly effective (and quick) at removing unconscious blocks and changing behaviours and attitudes around self-worth, confidence, and fear.
NLP as a therapeutic tool is brilliant because it works at the the unconscious level to re-code the neural activity that leads to these blocks and non-useful behaviours; whilst at the same time building resources, states and behaviours that will allow you to “turn off the monkey mind”, get out of your own way, and allow the body to do what it has evolved over millions of years to do – give birth to your child naturally and effortlessly!
Postnatal depression is a sign of disharmony and depletion. It can be easily prevented with Chinese Medicine acupuncture and herbs, but also with a soulful and nutritious diet, and by effectively dealing with any fears and emotional blocks that may get in the way of allowing your body to do what it is designed to do, naturally.