The best alternative treatment for . . . postnatal depression:What to do instead

* Increase your omega-3 fats. Take fatty-acid supplements and eat more cold-water fish and seafood (J Affect Disord, 2002; 69: 15-29). Low fatty-acid levels just after birth are linked to postnatal depression (PND) (Life Sci, 2003; 73: 3181-7). Mothers’ docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) goes to their fetuses during pregnancy to ensure optimal neurological growth so, unless you’ve been supplementing, you’re likely to be deficient. To avoid PND, begin taking these supplements while pregnant.

* Try bright-light therapy. Introduced to treat SAD (seasonal affective disorder), this can also help other non-seasonal forms of depression. A 10,000-lux lightbox, used for 30 minutes every day between 7 and 9 o’clock in the morning, can significantly improve mood and other symptoms of depression, with no adverse effects (Am J Psychiatry, 2000, 157: 303-4).

* Consider acupuncture, which works just as well as conventional treatments for major depression – in both acute and maintenance phases. Out of 26 women having acupuncture for eight weeks, 17 were cured and, six months later, three-quarters were still well (Complement Ther Med, 2001; 9: 216-8).

* Take yourself and your baby to a baby-massage class. As mothers with PND often have problems interacting with their infants, a massage class will help them relate to their babies better – possibly though the release of oxytocin and by helping them to better understand their babies’ communication signals.

* If nothing else works, try St John’s wort, which can be as effective or better than a synthetic antidepressant for mild-to-moderate depression, with fewer side-effects (Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr, 2004; 72: 330-43). Also, the supplement does not appear to affect either milk production in mothers or infant growth (J Clin Psychiatry, 2003; 64: 966-8). But, as one side-effect of the herb is photosensitivity, don’t use this treatment with light therapy.

* Have your partner massage you during labour. In one study, this led to less postnatal depression (J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol, 1997; 18: 286-91).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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