Most new moms experience postpartum “baby blues” after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks.
Exclusive breastfeeding improves robust secretions of “happiness hormones” in a mother’s body that help fight baby blues. Let us take a closer look at what these hormones are, and how they help to reduce the impact of postnatal baby blues and postpartum depression.
Baby blues can occur due to the sudden loss of regular life, sleep deprivation, maternal anxiety and hormonal changes, Physical stress and pain, either due to episiotomies in vaginal delivery or a C-section incision accompanying the process of childbirth. The cumulative effect of constant tiredness, lack of rest and sleep, topped up with constant nourishment and holding the baby can trigger baby blues.
Healing and nursing are the focal points post birth. Time is a scarce resource for a new mother who feels that this new cycle of feeding never ends. She constantly feels sleep deprived as a consequence. Mental & physical healing take time. Good nutritious food and adequate rest along with feeling supported by family goes a long way in making the mother feel happy and heal faster. When a mother breastfeeds her baby, the hormone prolactin is released as it plays a key role in milk production. A new mother who is continuously roomed in with the baby from the hospital and is breastfeeding, improves her chances of recovering quickly, getting some rest and also releasing the necessary happiness hormones along with prolactin production.
What are these happiness hormones and what can trigger them to release in our body?
These hormones can be identified as DOSE: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin which are the 4 essential hormones that help us maintain mental well-being and deliver a constant feeling of happiness.
- Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward. When you come to associate a certain activity with pleasure, mere anticipation may be enough to raise dopamine levels. It could be a certain food, sex, shopping, or just about anything else that you enjoy. Dopamine can be released from a feeling of being connected and completely in love with one’s baby, which happens when there is uninterrupted physical contact between the mother and her baby.
- Oxytocin or love hormone makes a mother feel rested, even when the process of breastfeeding feels tiring. It is also a hormone that is secreted post intercourse and after child birth. A nursing mother is able to secrete oxytocin every time she breastfeeds with a good deep latch. The hormone makes the mother sleep well through the day in short spurts and gives her the necessary rest as the breastfeeding relationship is established well from the very beginning.
- Serotonin – The four ways to boost serotonin activity are sunlight, massage, exercise, and remembering happy events. It is a hormone that we secrete usually from our social interactions which can be through petting a dog, massaging a baby or the close social contact that is established during breastfeeding where a mother is able to touch a child, stroke her hands through the child’s body which in turn helps to secrete the hormone in her body. The act of massaging a baby while breastfeeding is extremely helpful to release serotonin. Other ways are by establishing strong family bonding and adding pumpkin seeds in the mother’s diet which has tryptophan in it, again a serotonin facilitator. This makes it another key ingredient in making up the DOSE for working towards alleviating or decreasing postpartum blues.
- Finally, Endorphins are the hormones released when we do any kind of physical activity and they help reduce perception of pain. A mother who is closely and continuously breastfeeding her baby in the first few months can be baby-wearing and walking with the baby to burp him after every feed or to sometimes sway to put the baby to sleep gently with the body movement. Slowly and steadily, this movement builds up pace and functions as an exercise for the mother. This helps the mother’s body to receive a low-impact exercise every couple of hours with the baby which boosts the release of endorphins in the first few months’ post childbirth.
We have just read and understood how DOSE is secreted in the mother’s body by maintaining close contact with the baby along with exclusive breastfeeding. We even find that the mother is slowly able to work through the highs and lows of the first month like constant exhaustion and lack of sleep and gradually gets to a better healing space with lesser stress, more control and no feeling of guilt as she feels completely healed and adequate as a mother.
It is common for a new mother to feel lost after a baby’s birth as it is a new phase of her life, where she is not only responsible for her own wellbeing but is also a constant caregiver for her little one. With adequate rest, unconditional family support, nutritious food and uninterrupted contact with her baby, not only helps her adapt to her new life but also helps her fight through baby blues.
In case you are constantly feeling low and/or are unable to perform your daily routine like bathing/brushing and taking care of your baby, even after 2 weeks post birth, please contact your health care provider for advice.