If you want to get pregnant and you’re one of the millions who are experiencing depression, you might feel like you’re in a double-bind — especially if getting pregnant isn’t happening like you dreamed it would. It seems like a baby could resolve your depression. The reality is that clinical depression is a complex, physiological occurrence, not just a momentary mood dip. The fertility journey and even pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood will most definitely impact your mood, but people with clinical depression can’t count on that impact being uplifting.
Treating your depression is paramount to protecting yourself, your loved ones, and possibly even your fertility. If you’re worried about taking conventional antidepressant medication but you don’t want your depression to go untreated, there are treatment alternatives. Traditional Chinese Medicine is one option.
The Chinese Medicine approach
Thousands of years old, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes an approach to health and its treatment that is quite different from conventional Western medicine (also known as allopathic medicine.) The goal of TCM in terms of treating depression, according to Alex Shpigel, L.Ac., is “to give your body enough energy to lift itself back up out of the depressed state.” This vital energy is called Qi (pronounced “chee”) and it is a foundation of TCM.
Donnielle James, L.Ac. describes a connection between depression and infertility in TCM terms. “From the standpoint of Chinese Medicine, a common diagnosis for stress and depression is called Liver Qi Stagnation, which is also a common cause of infertility.”
Chinese medicine tries to get to the root of [health] problems and balance the person as an individual so the body can do what it needs to do to heal. People who are depressed are not deficient in anti-depressants; they don’t need another chemical in their body for the liver and kidney to process. What they need is to strengthen their organ systems to function optimally so the depression goes away.
TCM is holistic
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses more than its most well-known modality, acupuncture, to help patients heal. Herbal medicines are almost always part of the full treatment plan. Breathing exercises may also be recommended.
During the treatment portion of a visit, acupuncture points are selected to work with the overall pattern of symptoms, often with a focus on ensuring free flowing movement of Qi throughout the body. In selecting herbs, formulas are typically given in stages corresponding with a woman’s cycle.
James explains the crucial nature of herbals in TCM. “Overall, herbals can have a more consistent and daily effect on the body, since they are usually taken as a supplement.”
One modality of TCM has been researched more than others, and the results are promising. Susan Wallmeyer, L.Ac., and others highly recommend acupuncture as treatment for women with mild to moderate depression who are TTC. She cites one example of research backing acupuncture: A study in the March 2010 journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that acupuncture is significantly effective for depression in pregnancy.
“As long as a woman has her psychiatrist’s supervision in weaning off her medication, acupuncture is safe alternative therapy for treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety, as well as for transitioning a patient off medication,” Wallmeyer says.
Combining different approaches
More people are exploring the use of TCM as a complement to Western medicine. Fertility patients seem to have led the way in this integration, and fertility specialists are responding with a more holistic, collaborative approach.
For example, if patients have been tracking their Basal Body Temperature, their chart is taken into consideration to determine the best pattern and treatment approach with acupuncture and herbs.
Donnielle James describes how she coordinates efforts in her California practice with conventional fertility specialists. “When treating a patient, it is very important to look at lab results and take an integrated approach, since some conditions may require further care, and it is important to know what is going on at a physical level. A woman may be dealing with fibroids or polyps, have a history of birth control use, etc.” A review of previous lab results is usually conducted during the first session, she says, and the next session assesses external stressors (like work, family, and finances) and lifestyle (such as sleep, diet, and activity habits.)
Infertility blues or depression?
Not sure if you should even be seeking help for how you feel? Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac. offers advice on how to tell the difference between just feeling understandably down in the dumps versus struggling with serious depression:
Pay attention to and chart your feelings and symptoms. If you notice the following, talk to a qualified professional about your concerns:
- Feelings of anxiety
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life
- Neglect of personal responsibility or personal care
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Extreme mood changes
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless
- Physical symptoms (such as headaches or chronic pain)
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Thoughts of death or suicide
About Tracy Morris
I wear a lot of hats while spinning plates and true stories. In between taking care of myself and my family, I write about fertility and other health care topics. Most of my online time lately is spent at two very different places: FertilityTies.com and TrailerParkKarma.com. Perspective is everything -- my pre-teen reminds me daily.Web | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | More Posts (29)