Post-Partum Depression from the Chinese Perspective

Having a woman come into my office complaining of fatigue, dizziness, depression, and a lack of desire for anything outside of sleep after giving birth two months occurs often. This is a pattern that more and more women experience as modern day demands require that they return to work sometimes only days after giving birth. It never ceases to amaze me the power these women have to juggle so many demands and still stay sane and healthy.

The process of carrying a baby to term and giving birth all while acting as though nothing had changed is a feat of Olympic proportion that few who have not experienced it could understand. When our baby was born my wife took a month off and her mother stayed with us and cooked three meals a day that were full of Chinese herbs that helped my wife’s body to rebuild. My wife is not an American she is Taiwanese and their view on childbirth is quite different from the US. The Taiwanese consider post-partum to be an extremely important time for the mother a time for rest, rebuilding the body, and creating a link between mother and child. After giving birth, the new mother’s body is in a weakened state and susceptible to disease not only from the outside but also from within.

When a woman gives birth her body loses valuable Qi (the bodies energy), and blood. Depending on the mothers pre-existing condition this can make the already difficult task of caring for a newborn impossible. In Taiwan it is customary to aside an entire month for the new mother and child while her own mother cares for her and her newborn. This allows the new mother time to convalesce without work stress and feeling the need to cook and clean.

Chinese medicine complement the recovery period bringing the mothers body back to balance quickly through the use of herbs, dietary recommendations, acupuncture and moxbustion (a warming process using the herb Artisimae). All this therapy brings new energy into a woman’s system after she has given birth. The focus of treatment is to harmonize the body’s energies through correcting imbalances in the system. These imbalances can arise when the body is not allowed to return to its natural balance on its own terms without the high stress of modern society.

Tonics like ginseng and astragalus (to lift the energy in the body) are used after giving birth, they help the body to balance itself by boosting the immune system and giving the bodies core energy a chance to rebuild. Cooked Rhemannia, and Lycium berries (to nourish the blood and fluids) are also important, though the emphasis on which of these herbs should be the primary ingredients is best determined by a practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine. This is only a caution because some people will tend to have a more difficult pattern (the condition underlying the symptoms) which require more attention to detail, this is one advantage to Chinese medicine, it addresses everyone differently. “It is the skilled Chinese medicine doctor who able to recognize the root condition and clip back the necessary branch symptoms that arise along the way that attains balance in those he treats”.

I do not expect that many would be able to take time out from their busy schedules and spend a month relaxing with their new gift. It is a hope though that someday our society could see the benefit of this approach and prepare accordingly for an upcoming birth. Chinese herbs and Acupuncture can still help in the meantime to get the new mother back on her feet so she can more readily enjoy her days as a new mother. Though Chinese medicine cannot claim to be a cure for all diseases in Gynecology and postpartum care it is a medicine that should be strongly considered before turning to pain killers, anti-inflammatories, birth control (for painful irregular cycles, that can arise after giving birth), or anti-depressants (to address post-partum depression). The focus of western medicine is to alleviate the symptoms while Chinese medicine eliminates the problem at the root. Caring for your body with Chinese medicine will leave you feeling whole, balanced and truly in touch with the natural rhythms your body was intended to have.