How Acupuncture Helps Cure Post Natal Depression
by Karen Costin

Pregnancy magazines abound with happy, slim mothers looking adoringly at their newborn babies while back in their designer jeans.  But for some, the truth is very different!

For many women giving birth can be a shock.  It can often feel humiliating, invasive and overwhelming.  For the more fortunate, it can be exhilarating, empowering and joyous – and that is what we choose to hear.  But for those who have had a less than perfect experience, the reality can mean post-labour pain, pain when breastfeeding, back pain resulting from an epidural and pain at the site of an episiotomy.  Added to this is the stress of tending to a newborn, something you may have never done before, mixed in with exhaustion and sleeplessness.

One of the most famous people to break the silence on Post Natal Depression is Brooke Shields, who in her startlingly honest memoir, ‘Down came the rain’, speaks candidly about her experience with crippling postpartum depression, reflecting on her struggle, her use of therapy and medication to treat the problem, and its impact on her family, new baby and friends.  One of the most interesting aspects of Brooke’s story was that she was a perfectionist and having a baby is often our first experience of a total lack of control.  As a perfectionist, she found it very hard to ask for help and, instead, wanted everyone to think she was doing fine.

An estimated 1 out of 10 women experience prolonged depression after childbirth and this is termed Post Natal Depression.  Post Natal Depression can also occur any time during the first year after giving birth.  Signs which may indicate Post Natal Depression can include emotional, physical or behavioural changes such as unexplained bouts of crying, mood swings, general malaise, fatigue, loss of appetite, not wanting to leave the house, inability to cope, anxiety, panic attacks, confusion, inability to think clearly, feelings of guilt, insomnia, forgetfulness, headaches, and aches and pains through out the body.

So what can be done to help a woman with Post Natal Depression? 
Her partner is critical, as he is usually in the closest relationship with her to gauge the severity of the symptoms.  Sometimes, however, he may not realise the extent of the problem, putting it down to ‘baby blues’ or readjustment.  In addition, after the initial visits from family and friends, the new mother often finds herself on her own.  The sense of isolation, irrespective of where she lives, can then be overwhelming.

There are women who may have yearned for a baby for years and yet may feel disconnected from their baby when he or she does arrive.  This may be accompanied by a deep sense of failure, guilt and regret.  The deep sense of isolation, often a common symptom of Post Natal Depression, increases in its intensity.  On the outside, things appear okay and a number of the symptoms can be explained away.  But a more profound loneliness or a sense of being disassociated from the baby is the most difficult to ascertain.

Many of the sufferers from Post Natal Depression are professional women, who are used to being in charge of their lives and situations they find themselves in.  The total loss of control during labour, especially if they have specific expectations on how the birth will unfold, can be extremely frightening.  Women are often not told precisely what is happening, nor even asked for their opinion, and this further leads to a feeling of powerlessness during the demanding labour process.

A client, Margaret*, had been through one such traumatic birth and had later suffered from Post Natal Depression, feeling a sense of disassociation from her new baby.  Subsequently, she chose acupuncture as a way to prepare her body for the second birth.  This transpired to be a caesarean section and afterwards Margaret’s body was severely traumatised.  Margaret herself felt so disconnected from her daughter that she didn’t want to be near her, didn’t want to hold her and, most of all, saw her as a foreign body that had invaded her life.

How 5 Element Acupuncture can help
When we are traumatised by an event, dependent on our sensitivity, the reactions to that trauma can vary.  Post Natal acupuncture can help restore energy levels and promote healthy recovery.  Treatment can start from five days after delivery.

In a 2001 study of 26 women who elected to have acupuncture for eight weeks after giving birth, 17 were cured of their Post Natal Depression and, six months later, 75% were still well**.

5 Element Acupuncture is a Japanese system that focuses on healing the body, mind and spirit.  The premise of 5 Element Acupuncture is that in order for healing to be ‘wholistic’, the person must first feel better internally at an emotional level.  Healing must take place from the inside out.  As the spirit recovers, so then the body is able to heal itself.

Relying on natural laws, it recognises that the health of a person’s entire body, mind and spirit must be taken into account in order to fully diagnose the cause of an illness.  Only then can the most effective help be offered so individuals can regain their balance and health on all levels.

Acupuncture initially helps to relieve the shock and trauma from the body and this reduces the disassociation the client feels.  Further sessions of treatment can help to improve the maternal bond with the baby.

Margaret was successfully treated.  Initially the acupuncture concentrated on eliminating the trauma of the birth from her body.  Much of the time was spent listening to her express her reactions to the birth experience and working on clearing any residual blockages.  Finally, we concentrated on the mother/baby bond and, within a short time, Margaret had become relaxed, happy and in love with her baby.  Margaret is now preparing for her third pregnancy.

Brooke Shields “Down came the rain” is available from bookstores nationwide.

Karen Costin is a Five Element acupuncture practitioner specialising in pregnancy, fertility and post-natal treatment. For more information about Karen and her practice, see

* Names have been changed.
** Complement Ther Med, 2001; 9:216-8.