Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression & Nutrient Deficiency. Any link?

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression (PDD) is a mood disorder which can arise any time after birth, either as an extension of postpartum blues, or independently in a mother who has been stable until that point. Studies have shown that women can be diagnosed with PPD up to a year after birth. The condition is characterised by sadness, fatigue, irritability and disinterest in life events, and women often experience feelings of guilt, worthlessness, anxiety and very occasionally suicide or harm to their baby (Reference 1).

What are the risk factors for developing postpartum depression?

  • Previous mental illness
  • Inadequate social or economic support
  • Recent psychological stress
  • Difficult birth experience
  • Significant physiological stress

Why do some women develop PPD and not others?

Researchers have addressed this from both psychological and social perspectives. However, the current view focuses on how the neuroendocrine and/or immune system dysregulation might lead to the development of depression. Especially as dysregulation of these systems is known to play a role in the development of depression among the non-postpartum population (Reference 2).

What nutritional deficiencies may lead to PPD?

The following micronutrients can become depleted during pregnancy:

  • n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)
  • Vitamin D
  • Trace minerals – Zinc and Selenium

Nutrients and the risk of developing PPD:

  •  PUFA supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of the inflammatory state that characterises clinical depression within the body. Furthermore, n-3 PUFA can help regulate the production and function of serotonin, the chemical and neurotransmitter which controls mood (Reference 3).
  • Studies have shown that women with lower levels of vitamin D, have a higher chance of developing PPD (Reference 4).
  • Research has found that deficiencies in zinc and selenium can increase the risk of developing the condition (Reference 5).

Foods that contain these nutrients:

  • PUFAs: n-3 and n-6 fatty acids cannot be synthesised by human bodies and therefore must be obtained from the diet. They can be found in fatty fish, seafood, flaxseed, walnuts, vegetable oils (maize, soya, sunflower-seed and cottonseed).
  • To increase your Vitamin D intake, go for fortified dairy or cereal products, fatty fish, eggs, beef liver.
  • Try and include red meat, seeds, beans for more Zinc.
  • Selenium is found in brazil nuts, nuts, meat, fish (Reference 6).

Eat colourful & stay nourished with a well balanced diet!


edinburgh nutrition Team