acupuncture for postpartum depression_fullBy Sara Calabro

The country’s first inpatient clinic for postpartum depression opened yesterday. Reporting on the opening, taking place at a University of North Carolina hospital in Chapel Hill, NPR said the new clinic will focus exclusively on the needs of women who experience severe mood changes after giving birth. Breast pumps, rocking chairs, individual and family therapy, and extended visiting hours for babies are all part of the specialized treatment regimen.

Acupuncture should be included as well.

Depression from an acupuncture perspective is a form of stagnation. Things are not moving as they should through a particular organ or meridian, causing emotional symptoms such as weighty sadness, frustration, or feelings of being blocked.

Stagnation can happen anywhere, but depression is most commonly associated with stagnation in the Liver. Liver is the system responsible for smooth flow throughout the body, so when things are stuck, points along the Liver channel are selected to restore movement.

Chronic stagnation eventually can lead to what are known as deficiency patterns. Postpartum depression usually falls into this category.

A primary pattern associated with postpartum depression is Heart Blood Deficiency.

What is Heart Blood Deficiency?

Heart Blood Deficiency in postpartum women can be understood literally—during childbirth, women lose a lot of blood, leaving them deficient in this area. In addition to depression, not having enough blood can cause forgetfulness, difficulty falling asleep, and feelings of intense shyness or social anxiety. (Heart palpitations and dizziness also can be associated specifically with Heart Blood Deficiency.)

However, the development of Heart Blood Deficiency after giving birth is more thoroughly explained through the interconnectedness that underlies acupuncture diagnoses.

During pregnancy, many things don’t move the way they should. Stagnation throughout the body can cause everything from physical symptoms like constipation to emotional stress and tension, all of which directly impact the Liver. Over time, the overburdened Liver begins to affect the Heart.

One understanding of the relationship between Liver and Heart can be found in Five Element acupuncture. In Five Element, wood (the natural element associated with Liver) is the mother of fire (Heart), so Liver pathologies are easily transferred to Heart. And the cycle continues: Once fire is affected, it can begin to disrupt the next element, earth (Spleen), which when deficient can cause excessive pensiveness and brooding, symptoms commonly experienced by women with postpartum depression.

Meridian approach to postpartum depression

Heart Blood Deficiency and other Liver-associated patterns are not the only explanations for postpartum depression. For instance, a meridian-style acupuncturist may view postpartum depression as an issue with Chong Mai, one of the body’s extraordinary vessels.

Chong Mai, which originates in the uterus, often plays a role in gynecological-related conditions. Another name for Chong Mai is Sea of Blood. There are four seas in the body that are regulated to achieve what we think of in biomedicine as homeostasis.

In The Practical Application of Meridian Style Acupuncture, author John Pirog says that when the Sea of Blood is unbalanced, “The patient has a keen sense that something is wrong but is unable to describe any clear symptoms and is unable to attribute a definite cause.”

This is a feeling a lot of postpartum women can identify with.

Much like the doctors who founded the postpartum clinic at UNC, acupuncturists understand that women experiencing postpartum depression have unique needs. Acupuncture is an ideal complement to the specialized services being introduced at these important new clinics.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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