When moms contact me, questioning their emotional roller coasters during pregnancy or during their postpartum year, I always start back at the basics. The Steps to Wellness were developed by Jane Honikman, founder of PEP and later Postpartum International. More than thirty years later, they are just as relevant to all people, especially new parents.
Today I am going to review steps 4-6. Here we need to look more closely at who we can build to be our support team!
If you are a new parent, build some time for your into your life. Contact us for some nonjudgmental sharing. We can serve as emotional support, or help you open up to your loved ones for support.
Next week I will review steps 7-9.
I have no opposition to medications and medical interventions when necessary, but I also believe that we need to treat the cause not just the symptoms. Sometimes we are so focused on managing symptoms that we forget to look for underlying cause. This applies to perinatal mental health as well. Sometimes our hormones are out of balance and we need pharmaceutical help and sometimes we need dietary changes or more simply things to ease the transition into motherhood, like solid peer support. Make no mistake, I whole heartedly believe that medication saves lives. I also believe that often women are improperly diagnosed and treated thus exacerbating symptoms of distress.
Occasionally a mom reaches out to me for what she thinks maybe postpartum depression. Sometimes, through care and professional evaluation, moms find that while they are definitely overwhelmed with new motherhood, they are not experiencing maternal mental illness. Sometimes. Fortunately, here in Tampa Bay we really do have this amazing wealth of resources for families. Not only do we have a large natural birth and parenting community, we have a large number of alternative and complimentary therapy practitioners (such as massage therapist, hypnotherapist and acupuncturist), several support groups, educational programs and more.
In my own quest to understand my struggles with maternal mental illness I studied every treatment possibility I could. Read many case studies, consulted with professionals and eventually came to a treatment plan that was suitable for me. I found a combination of prayer, medication, cognitive behavior therapy and alternative therapies worked for me, after obtaining an accurate diagnosis.
Now I know every woman is different however if you are considering alternatives to medication, I want you to know what is out there. I recently chatted with Dr. De’Nicea Hilton, owner of Hilton Holistic Health and founder of Sisters of Flow. Doctor D, as she is sometimes called, is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Physician working with families in Tampa Bay. With years of study and national certification, Dr. D specializes in encouraging self-healing and wellness.
If you’re not familiar with acupuncture, it is an art of inserting (or non-insertion for some styles) sterile, one-time use needles in specific points that are all over the body. By stimulating these points, it’s believed we are calling these points to activate with a greater purpose of helping the body to harmonize and thus promote self-healing. Pretty neat huh.
I asked how acupuncture treats mental and emotional issues, as in what is the theory behind acupuncture for health and mental health? Here’s how Dr. D explained it to me;
“While the physical act of performing acupuncture is working with the body, there is an intimate connection with the mind as well. Each organ system houses a part of our mental/emotional state. You hear that our physical health is a representation of the mind or vice versa. I see it all the time. Thought patterns and physical complaints may seem completely unrelated but they are very much so related due to the understanding/nature of the organ systems. For example, someone may describe having constipation and when asked about having difficulty "letting things go" in life, they often agree that they do. So, you can see it is more in understanding the organ systems and the relationships between each other. Body, mind and spirit are tightly connected. Often times, the physical symptom is a way your body is communicating. We hold emotions in various parts of our bodies. It is part therapeutic talk and acupuncture and herbs are a tool to further the therapeutic process by balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and spirit.”
In preparing for this post, I went searching for information on acupuncture and its use in the field of maternal mental health. I didn’t find much, in fact, one study, mentioned at Postpartum Progress was the most detailed I could find. I shared it with Dr. D and asked here to help me understand (in plain mama English) and she was glad to expand on it. Take a break, go read it and come back to us.
Back again? Here’s our pal Dr. D’s reply;
“The author of the post did a great job in presenting both sides of the findings of the study. It is very clear that the opposing author does not believe in or consider Qi to be something that exists. However, it does exist and since 2010 when that article was written, more and more scans and studies have come out. Cardiologists are recommending Qi Gong and Tai Chi for patients for its benefits in reducing blood pressure. Other physicians are recommending it for pain relief and even helping to manage tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
As for the methodology of the study, it can be difficult to say you are going to treat a blanket diagnosis as depression without going through the pool of potential study participants and setting the inclusion criteria to maybe only represent a specific TCM diagnosis. I appreciate the thought in the performing acupuncturists not knowing the diagnosis beforehand. The notion of "sham acupuncture" is interesting to me because although the needle may not be inserted, the points can still be stimulated. Non-insertion technique is commonly used in Japanese acupuncture. Commonly you will hear about Toyohari and Shonishin.
It's necessary to point out that TCM is one of many acupuncture theories and practices. For some patients, TCM acupuncture may not be as effective as Japanese, Six Stage, Five Element or Korean. This list is not exhaustive by any means. I mention this because practitioners practice differently. With that, you may ask if there is a certain style preference she or he uses.
Overall, I would consider what TCM diagnosis was made for each of the participants and their histories. Acupuncture itself can help for sure, and I believe herbs and nutrition work harmoniously. Lifestyle is another consideration. It is not going to take just one thing to correct something. It takes a holistic approach.”
So this then lead me to asking how Hilton Holistic Health approaches maternal mental health, most importantly, how Dr. D works with Moms.
“I love the way this question is asked - "work with moms." That's exactly how I think of it. I meet moms where they are at. By speaking with her, we can really see where she is, including her present symptoms and hearing about her life before pregnancy and her birth story. Details of the birth gives me an idea of what the state of her body was before she went into the pregnancy and the birth. There is some vital information to be found there. For example, she may have had a history of very light menstrual cycles spread apart and then had a very long labor which may have ended up in a C-section. This tells me she had some underlying deficiencies and in the present state, her body has just been really taxed and needs some vital support. It just so happens that she is manifesting it in the way she is now: be it depression, anxiety, poor memory, fatigue or even low milk supply. This is a very common diagnosis of Blood and Qi Deficiency (which could be of different organs based on mom) due to the major loss of those substances during birth.
What helps most often after an Eastern medicine diagnosis has been found, is to replenish the system. This happens via nutrition, herbs and acupuncture. I use a Micronutrient test to see where she may be most deficient and where she's not absorbing these important pieces of our proper bodily function. My preference is using whole food supplements because the body is more readily available to absorb them. Plus, when you are absorbing and processing properly, the herbs are able to go in and do their job as channel/organ system balancing. Acupuncture seals the deal by activating the points to further balance the disharmonies.”
I really love the notion of professionals who encage their patients, really speak with them not at them. By helping moms explore what’s going on with their bodies, Dr. D is planting seeds of healing. Sometimes just having someone who is caring and nonjudgmental to listen can make a world of difference.
I’m also really excited to share another special project from Dr. D called Sisters of Flow. Sisters of Flow is currently a podcast where Dr. D and guest go with the flow, about anything and everything menstrual cycles.
“ I started it out of my personal experience with painful periods which sometimes made me really unproductive because I would have to sit with a space heater on the floor at work or would miss class because I would just have to stay at home in bed with heating pad. While in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine School, I learned about treating this and it worked! All I used was acupuncture and herbs. Later I incorporated vaginal steaming as a regular regimen to make sure I'm shedding all that I need to shed each month. As I began talking with other women, I learned they did not know that the cycle is not supposed to be painful or even there were other options to use besides birth control pills. Thus, Sisters of Flow was born to provide a platform to educate those who menstruate about what their options are, raise awareness about disparities in regards to women's health and exploring different cultures' perception about menstruation.”
“I would LOVE for moms to know the cycle you once knew may change. This may be for the better or for the worse. If there is anything to find comforting, it is that in this new phase of your life, you now know there is a lot of support. If it is for the worse, heed that as a sign that you may need some additional support. For some, it may be cramping or back pain and it can stay that way or get better. For some, there is definitely a connection. The timing of the menstrual pain along with the flow, color, odor and duration are taken into consideration. Though not true for everyone, some with cycles that may have been closer together, painful before and first days with heavy dark bleeding may experience more anxiety. On the other hand, those with prolonged pain throughout the cycle and even afterwards with a lighter color and longer time in between may experience more depression. In these instances, the menstrual pain and information about the cycle in general adds great information in painting the picture of her overall being.”
I’m also a little excited, I recently got to be a guest and “go with the flow” talking about cycle changes after multiple births and various types of birth. We’ll be sure to let you know when it airs, warning its probably pretty TMI for some but you know how open I am. I also think menses is another topic, like mental illness that gets shushed too often. If you are interested in learning more about Oriental Medicine, acupuncture and more, please contact Dr. De'Nicea Hilton, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and Acupuncture Physician. I warn you though, you may find yourself laughing with her and chatting so much you forget the needles.
Dr. De'Nicea Hilton, DOM, AP
Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture Physician
Hilton Holistic Health - www.hiltonholistichealth.com
Sisters of Flow - www.sistersofflow.com
Text or call: 727-300-6722
This may seem unexpected, especially coming from someone who professionally encapsulates and prepares placenta. However, as a mental health advocate, I must be clear and honest with you; your placenta capsules are not antidepressants.
Now that you're surely confused, let me explain this further. It has become recently fashionable for American mothers to consume their placentas after giving birth; most commonly encapsulated. This process may or may not include steaming the placenta with added ingredients, then drying the placenta and grinding it into powder before packing into capsules much like vitamins or other supplements.
Advocates for placenta encapsulation cite reasons such as stabilizing hormones after childbirth, speeding recovery, and increasing milk supply. However, the bulk of evidence supporting placenta encapsulation is anecdotal. It is important for mothers to know that there is no FDA regulation or policy in place regarding placenta encapsulation. Choosing to consume your placenta is a choice you make without much scientific data.
Although the majority of this anecdotal evidence is very positive, there are some women who do report a negative experience consuming their placenta. It's just as possible for you to be one of the women that has a great experience as it is for you to have a very unpleasant experience.
To be fair it would be nearly impossible to actually complete a double-blind study on the effects of placenta consumption, which is why we will probably never see much science based evidence on the subject. This does not necessarily mean that it is bad to consume your placenta or that it will not help you; it simply means that there is no guarantee.
I would venture to say that for many women consuming placenta capsules has a positive placebo effect. Sometimes placebos are a nice thing. If you choose to encapsulate your placenta and take your placenta capsules and you notice positive results that's wonderful. However if you are choosing to do this now and you did not with previous births it's highly likely that you've made other lifestyle changes that are also influencing your postpartum experience. Again this is not a bad thing just something else to consider.
What I want every mother to know when thinking about encapsulating their placenta or consuming it in any other form is there are benefits and risks in every decision we make. You are taking a gamble with the money that you spend hiring your professional encapsulator. You should be comfortable with the possibility of spending that money and not having the desired result before you lay out that hard earned money.
Moms-to-be, as you are considering paying for placenta encapsulation, please do your research! Look into the possible benefits and the possible risks. Ask lots of questions of the different encapsulators you interview. Ask about their safety protocols, how they sanitize the area where they will prepare your placenta, and more importantly ask them about their knowledge of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. If your encapsulation specialist is guaranteeing that you avoid suffering a postpartum mood disorder by consuming your placenta, RUN.
Run screaming in the other direction. This person is either ill-informed or simply cares more about your money and doesn't have your health and wellbeing at heart.
A well-trained, qualified placenta encapsulation specialist will not only know the process to safely prepare your placenta, but they will also know the signs and symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to watch for. They will know what intensifying factors can increase your risk and have methods or resources that may assist you in decreasing your risk. They will be willing to talk to you about symptoms you're having and help you find treatment if necessary.
I'm a fan of the postpartum professionals. I am a HUGE FAN of postpartum professionals that are not only offering placenta encapsulation services, but are openly talking with their clients about postpartum depression and anxiety and other forms of postpartum distress. These encapsulators are letting you know signs to look for, perhaps providing you with symptoms checklist or maybe even the Edinburgh scale so that you can do a self-assessment. They are helping you keep track of what's going on during your postpartum adjustment.
If you are considering hiring a person to prepare your organ for your consumption you have every right and responsibility to question them about these topics.
If you happen to be in the wonderful world of placenta encapsulation, I want you to know that Mom's Matter. Of course you are running a business, of course, you deserve fair payment for your service, and (payments keep you in business!)
But please do not guarantee mothers something you simply cannot guarantee. I believe that being upfront with clients will actually grow business and professional reputations. In an end, for professionals, I am sharing a blog post written by Chinook City Doulas . When I came across this post, I was very impressed by their honest approach to postpartum care and placenta encapsulation. If you're a professional reading this, check them out to get an idea of how to fairly and accurately present placenta consumption to your clients. They've done a great job.
If you are a mom and planning to consume your placenta to avoid postpartum distress, hire an encapsulator you feel comfortable with, and please also consider additional support measures. Contact us to learn more about postpartum planning and identifying the symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
With Placenta Love,
Big Hugs and thanks to Brandi of Flower of Life Birthing & Placenta Services for her contribution of some amazing photos in today's blog!
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the