‘Baby blues’ and feeling like an ‘emotional mess’ after having a baby are common feelings for many new mums. But when you’re constantly feeling snappy, irritable, down, and worrying ALL THE TIME, you can’t help but wonder — what’s wrong with me?
And when your mental health issues continue lingering well after the baby is born, well, this is cause for concern.
Data shows that one in five mothers of children aged 24 months or less has been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety (1). And these issues can linger far longer than just the toddler years, with research showing that mums with kids up to the age of 8 (especially those juggling home and work) are linked with mental health issues (2).
I came into this work of helping mothers restore from post-natal depletion, after my own experiences of anxiety after having my two babies. For me, anxiety showed up as heart palpitations, chest tightness, inability to believe, and quite literally felt like I was losing control — especially with my kids. Every little thing they did tick me off, and I was often, ashamed, lashing out at my daughters for the smallest things. It deeply scared me because this was not who I was, nor the type of mother I envisioned to be. Deep down, I wanted to be the loving and nurturing mother my daughters deserved. But some days, it was like I was overshadowed with dragon-like anger, from a place that was unknown.
Body Imbalances That Cause Depression & Anxiety
Often mothers continue living in quiet shame, with their erratic behaviours and harmful thoughts. Or, some seek help from their GP. While this is a good first step, often GP’s will only be able to spend 15minutes with you, which ends with a script for an anti-depressant or a referral to a psychologist. While this might help take the edge of things, it doesn’t always get to the root cause of post-natal depression or anxiety, which is what I call postnatal depletion or burnout.
Pregnancy, breastfeeding, sleepless nights, convenient foods, and the emotional stress of trying to work out how to be a mother and juggle baby and other life duties are extremely demanding. All these stressors add up and can lead to some pretty nasty functional imbalances in the body, which can flare up mental health issues. For example:
An infection of the gut could cause depression/anxiety. Think of h.pylori, giardia, or candida, which are damaging your gut-brain connection with inflammation. Several studies have observed that gut inflammation affects mental health conditions such as mood imbalances, anxiety, and depression (3). These infections often occur when the immune system is suppressed during times of stress (aka having babies!).
Depletion of neurotransmitters could be another cause. It relates to an imbalance in your brain chemicals, dopamine or serotonin, triggering your low mood and anxiousness, and even irrational anger, as seen in this study (2). Having babies can also cause these neurotransmitters to deplete. When I tested my neurotransmitters post babies, it wasn’t a surprise to see how low my dopamine was.
Your postnatal anxiety/depression can also arise because of toxin overload. When your body struggles to detox and cleanse, it affects your brain’s healthy functions, triggering more anxiety and depression. Again, there are studies to show the real effects of heavy metal toxicity on mental health (3).
Overcoming Postnatal Anxiety & Depression
Thankfully, you can heal from mental health conditions with a holistic step-by-step approach.
1. Get tested for any potential imbalances in your body systems — think your brain, gut, hormones, and detox pathways. Testing can be done through specialised functional medicine tests using saliva, urine, and stool. These tests go beyond what your GP would test for and often find issues even after all your GP tests have come back ‘normal’.
2. Make sure you rest. Your body and mind repair themselves while you sleep. A lack of it can lead you to feel lethargic, demotivated, emotional, and burned-out, so don’t overlook your sleep.
3. Be mindful of your nutrition. While it can be a struggle for time-poor mums, prioritising a balanced diet will help you avoid blood sugar imbalances which can affect mood swings and energy crashes, as well as gut inflammation if you’re eating inflammatory foods.
4. Break your anxious cycle. Snapping often comes with a sense of shame and guilt, which snowballs into comfort habits, such as emotional eating or escaping on Netflix or the like. And the more you engage with these habits, the further you drive yourself from balance. To reprogram this behavioural cycle, start with awareness. Notice the emotions, environment, and patterns attached to your habits.
I know it’s not easy to tackle all the above on your own. Having support to calm your body down and do the inner work needed can make a huge difference. Seeking a coach or functional medicine practitioner will help you become the mum you want to be — someone who is present, calm, loving, and connected.
A year after working on my own postnatal depletion, I was at the beach with my daughter. At some point, she came to me and said:
“Mummy, you’re so happy now. You’re always smiling. You used to be an angry Mummy, but now you’re so kind and fun.”
My heart exploded! It made all my hard work worth it. And the reality is that life is full of magic that way.
If you’d love your kids to say these things to you too, I’d love to invite you to book in for a 90min “Connect The Dots” session with me where we will dive deep into why you feel the way that you do, and get you started with lab testing — https://www.chrisandfilly.fm/Initial-consult
Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a Ph.D. thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger & in the media. Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last 10+ years, and specialises in producing healthy, balanced, and happy Mums & Dads…or as she calls it, a Power Parent! Filipa’s own passion for producing high-performance Power Parents came from her own personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.