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Illustration by Mart Klein/ Getty Images

health | 11.26.2019

New Mothers Are Using CBD Oil To Treat Postpartum Depression. Should They Be?

600,000 women suffer from postpartum depression. CBD oil could be the answer.

From 2004-2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a self-reporting study of new mothers in 17 states to find out the prevalence of postpartum depression (PPD). The study found that 11.7%-15% of those who had given birth said they were experiencing PPD, and that this was found more often among younger mothers, those with lower education or finances, and those with “partner-related stress or physical abuse.”

Based on these numbers, Postpartum Progress reports that at the time 600,000 individuals were shown to be suffering from PPD, and that’s only counting the individuals who had self-reported their symptoms. These numbers didn’t take into account those who experienced miscarriages or stillborn births. It also didn’t consider the number of mothers who had symptoms more akin to postpartum anxiety than depression.

Depression is a scary and difficult beast to battle, and the burden can be even more daunting with a new life to support and maintain. The CDC details a number of symptoms specific to PPD, such as “feeling numb or disconnected from your baby,” feeling guilty “about not being a good mom[,] or doubting your ability to care for the baby.” Postpartum Progress explains that, like traditional depression, many individuals with PPD—about 85%—do not seek professional treatment.

And while nothing on its own is an adequate substitution for traditional treatment for depression—which may include therapy and psychotropic medication (the latter of which is often unfairly maligned)—many women with PPD are also finding a helpful adjunctive option in CBD oil.

There is minimal research surrounding whether breastfeeding mothers should be using marijuana at all. What has emerged suggests that though “cannabinoid exposure through milk has not been shown to increase neonatal risk […] there are no appropriate studies of this.” There are naturally occurring and highly necessary endocannabinoids already in breastmilk, but it’s unclear whether the ratio is something that mothers should really be messing with.

In short, it might just not be worth the risk for breastfeeding mothers to venture into untested territory. But the matter is that many mothers suffering from PPD already have difficulties with breastfeeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. In a sense it’s a catch-22: mothers have trouble breastfeeding if they’re depressed, but the thing that may lift them out of their depression enough to help breastfeed is not necessarily a proven substance to pass along to the baby.

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Illustration by Mart Klein/ Getty Images

The benefits of breastfeeding aside, it’s important to consider how critical early attachment between a mother and child (which involves many other things besides breastfeeding) can be and how negatively such things can be affected by PPD. In the long run, it makes sense to treat the PPD and have the mom pursue healthy attachment and parenting practices rather than focus on breastfeeding (which can, though this is a point of constant contention among young mothers, be traded for formula).

THC might not necessarily be the best cannabinoid of choice for battling depression and anxiety as it inhibits and, via a sort of imitation, blocks a neurotransmitter called GABA that calms the body, from clicking into place in the brain. But CBD, on the other hand, acts in the opposite manner, making the brain create more GABA and allowing it to more easily settle into its receptor.

CBD also works on serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that are most commonly associated with depressed moods. Researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 2014 found that, in general, “CBD exhibited an anti-anxiety and antidepressant [effect] on animal models.”

And that’s likely why a hemp-based CBD oil has become the champion of fighting postpartum depression rather than a whole-plant cannabis tincture. Global CBD interviewed an Idaho mother of two who uses their no-THC blend to treat her PPD and postpartum anxiety:

“I have high anxiety, I had postpartum depression, [and] the CBD oil mellowed me out, it allowed me to be relaxed with my kids, not get that high anxiety and it really helps with back pain, things like that.”

So while it’s always a good idea for people struggling with PPD or postpartum anxiety to go and see a psychiatrist, there is hope out there for mothers who haven’t found peace in traditional medicine or want to try and take their own route out of the darkness.

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