Tips to fight off Post-natal Depression

For most women, having a baby is the most significant life changing event they will ever experience. It is usually a happy time, however with all the changes that new mums have to adjust to in combination with a hurricane of hormonal fluctuations and less sleep than studying for a medical exam, it is common to experience changes in your emotions and mood. When emotional distress is persistent and disabling it can reach the level of clinical depression otherwise known as post-natal depression, PND. Unfortunately PND is not a rarity; studies estimate that approximately 10-15% of all new mothers will be affected in some way. In fact, in the year after childbirth a woman is more likely to need psychological help than at any other time in her life. PND is a serious condition not only affecting the new mum, but it can also be debilitating to close relationships and can even affect the level of mother-infant interaction. There is good news though… studies suggest that women who have sufficient long chain Omega-3 fatty acid intake during and after pregnancy reduce their risk of developing PND.

What are Omega-3’s and what role do they play in PND?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of ‘good’ polyunsaturated fat and are found in three different forms; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and α-linolenic acid (ALA). Our body cannot make Omega-3 fats by itself therefore we need to consume them from our diet. Omega-3s, in particular DHA, are important for the development of the brain, eyes and central nervous system of your growing baby. Omega-3s are passed during pregnancy to your baby via your placenta as well as through breast milk once your bub is born. The amount of Omega-3 passed onto your baby is dependent on your dietary intake therefore it is essential for you to ensure you are having adequate Omega-3 intake, particularly during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Regretfully, many Australian women don’t have enough Omega-3 in their diet and so their own stores are drawn upon, leaving you depleted which may increase the risk of PND. Although there is still debate as to its mechanisms, it is believed that Omega-3 fatty acids assist in carrying mood chemicals such as serotonin in the brain. International guidelines recommend that pregnant women consume at least 200mg of DHA each day.

PND is serious, but don’t give up! It’s encouraging to know that there are really simple strategies that you can incorporate in your daily diet to minimise your risk of developing PND.

Don’t be scared to eat fish

Eating fish whilst pregnant can generate fear in many women because of the threat of listeria or mercury poisoning. The truth is that fish should be on the top of your shopping list! Marine animals are the main source of Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet with oily fish having the richest Omega- 3 content.
A serve of salmon, sardines or trout provides over 1000mg DHA while white fish including Snapper, tuna or Barramundi, and other seafood provide approximately 600mg of DHA per serve. Just be sure to limit your intake of predatory fish and flake (shark) and to cook your fish well and there is no reason to shy away from seafood!

Recommended intake: aim for 2-3 150g serves of low mercury fish per week

Have more eggs

Even though eggs provide less Omega-3 than marine or meat based products, they are still a good source of Omega-3. A standard 60g egg provides approximately 40mg DHA. Some companies are now fortifying their eggs to boost their Omega-3 content. Always check the label of fortified products to confirm Omega-3 quantities, but as a general guide an enriched 60g egg may provide 70mg DHA. Incorporate them into sandwiches or stir-fries or serve them as the hero of the dish either boiled or scrambled or the humble omelette.

Recommended intake
: Aim for 6 60g Omega 3 enriched eggs per week

Try some flaxseed oil

Plant based Omega-3 fatty acids come in the form of ALA from foods such as flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil. Our body must convert ALA into EPA and DHA but this conversion rate is slow and inefficient (less than 10% when compared to what is obtained from fish). Of all the plant based sources, flaxseeds are the best source as they contain ~50-60% ALA. Although whole flaxseeds are poorly digested and can only provide ~ 3g ALA, 1 tbsp flaxseed oil can provide up to 10g of ALA, which equates to approximately 400mg DHA. Flaxseed oil is too delicate to cook with so a handy tip is to use it as a salad dressing.

Recommended intake: Aim for 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil per day
Increasing your Omega-3 intake can be as easy as adding more fish, eggs and/or flaxseed into your diet. If you or someone you love has post-natal depression it is important to also seek professional help from your health care providers.