A new supplement to treat the baby blues could ward off postpartum depression

Feeling sad in the days after delivery is all too common. But researchers are working on a supplement that could help new moms feel like themselves again.

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In the weeks after I had my daughter, I swung from bouts of intense love to anxiety-inducing thoughts. On top of that, my body felt like it had been through a bar fight and I was barely getting more than an hour of sleep. I worried that I might break, mentally and physically.

The baby blues, which can set in about three to five days after labour and last for up to 10 days, are known for causing emotional swings, crying jags, irritability and intense worrying. The condition, which affects up to 75 percent of moms, occurs because of the intense changes the body goes through after giving birth.

For some women, the symptoms develop into something more serious and stick around longer. Postpartum depression, which occurs in 13 percent of mothers, is the most common complication of childbearing and has been linked to a recurrence of depression later in life.

But what if a supplement could change all that?

Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, head of the neuroimaging program in mood and anxiety at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, has been researching a cocktail of nutrients that he thinks can ward off the baby blues by correcting a chemical imbalance that naturally happens in the brain a few days after birth. In his recent study, women who took four doses of blueberry extract, blueberry juice and the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine after birth didn’t experience depressive symptoms.

The small study, which was released earlier this year through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at 41 women—half of them took the supplements and half did not. They took the supplements four times, starting the night of day three postpartum, until the morning of day five. On day five, each group went through a series of tests to judge their mood, like reading statements that included pessimism, lethargy and dissatisfaction, and listening to sad music. Researchers tested their moods before and after, reporting that the women who took the supplements did not experience any depressed mood, while the others had a significant increase in depression scores.

Meyer says the supplements work because they are building blocks for brain chemicals that are naturally depleted after birth. He explains that there’s a protein in the brain called monoamine oxidase A, or MAO-A, that renders useless three chemicals that usually help to manage our moods: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

“On days four to six postpartum, this protein temporarily elevates by over 40 percent,” says Meyer. Luckily, tryptophan and tyrosine help to create more of that trio of mood chemicals, filling in for the deficiency, says Meyer. Meanwhile, the blueberries, which are rich in antioxidants, help counteract the oxidative effect of MAO-A.

Meyer hopes that the reduction in baby blues can prevent the onset of more intense postpartum depression (PPD). “When postpartum blues are severe, there’s a four-fold increase in getting postpartum depression later,” he says.

The good news is the supplementation kit for baby blues might be only a year and a half away. The Canadian doctor and his team are planning a followup double-blind study, and then a study to determine if the supplement can also prevent the more serious PPD. They’ve already been contacted by international health organizations that want to partner up in the hope testing the findings on a bigger panel of women. Until then, Meyer cautions against trying to do your own supplementation because getting the right timing and dose is critical.

Those first few days with your baby are nothing short of intense, but if supplements could help, hand me the pills!

Read more:
Mom posts candid video about what postpartum depression feels like
How to break the cycle of postpartum anxiety

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