Bright Light Therapy

Can It "Lighten" Postpartum Depression?

Can bright light therapy, useful for the treatment of SAD, help the depressive symptoms of postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, have a great deal in common. In fact, they are both very common types of depression that affect people all over the world.

But do the similarities stop there? Is it possible that one disorder can affect or even launch the other disorder into development?

Before addressing these questions, it helps to understand how each form of depression takes place.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a temporary form of depression that strikes some people during the fall and winter when there is less daylight.

Researchers believe that the main culprit behind this disorder is that the limited exposure to sunlight also reduces the brain’s serotonin levels, which in turn creates feelings of depression, impulse-eating (mainly carb-rich foods), lack of energy or desire to exercise, and weight gain. People who suffer from SAD may also have trouble concentrating, feel reclusive, or sleep more than usual.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms vs SAD Symptoms

Postpartum depression typically occurs within the first year after a woman gives birth. Although up to 80 percent of mothers may experience a condition called the “baby blues” during the first month after having a baby, true postpartum depression typically only affects between 10 to 20 percent of new moms.

The symptoms of depression, such as worthlessness, sadness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and weight gain are similar to those experienced with SAD.

Postpartum depression, however, also often has the added symptoms of anxiety, excessive worry (particularly about their baby), and feeling like an insufficient parent.

Postpartum depression can occur after a woman has given birth, generally does not resolve itself within a certain time period, as is typical with SAD, and can last for years if it is not treated properly.

Can Mom Be Suffering From Both SAD and PPD?

Studies have shown that mothers who live in climates with extended periods of darkness, such as Alaska, experience higher rates of postpartum depression, leading researchers to believe there is a link between reduced light and postpartum depression.

Studies also indicate that women who give birth during the autumn or winter months are more likely to fall victim to SAD, regardless of whether they begin to suffer from postpartum depression. This could be related to the fact that in the postpartum period, a woman’s hormones are already suffering drastic changes which make them more susceptible to the changes that low-sunlight exposure can incur. It is also thought that hormone production could change at different times of the year.

Women who suffer from SAD at the end of their pregnancy may also be at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression, as the initial feelings of depression are already present and could transfer over to affect a mother’s attitude towards her new child and parenthood.

Bright Light Therapy Treatment

One of the most effective holistic treatments for SAD is bright light therapy, also called phototherapy. With this type of treatment, a specialized light therapy box is used to produce a bright light. As a person sits nearby, the light emitted by this box is intended to mimic sunlight, thus stimulating the brain to produce more serotonin, which in turn creates positive changes in their mood.

Bright light therapy has worked well for SAD sufferers, and studies show that it has promising results for non-seasonal depression. It is now being recommended for mothers with mild to moderate postpartum depression as well. This treatment has no known side effects and is a safe treatment for SAD and SAD-encouraged postpartum depression. 

Return from Bright Light Therapy to Natural Depression Treatments 

Return from Bright Light Therapy to Postpartum Living

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"No mother has to suffer from PPD needlessly. This is a fact. But until you know what you're up against, you'll still be trapped - without knowing why! A typical example is the common misconception that depression is "all just in the mind." Your first step is to keep an open mind; and allow Laura to take you by the hand and guide you step by step through the PPD universe. Using a "wellness" approach, and with her usual friendly and informative style, trust me, she can help you help yourself getting out of the rut - naturally - in no time."

- Naturopath Alex Leong, B.A.S.M.

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"I just want to say in my capacity as pediatrician, teacher of pediatrics, and medical journalist, how very impressed I am by your website. I think your site is very thoughtful, not at all doctrinaire, and will be very valuable to mothers (and I think fathers, too in a second-hand sort of way) suffering from a variety of postpartum problems, of which the most common and perhaps the most serious is PPD. Anyway, thank you for your site, which I will certainly pass on to mothers in my practice."

Sydney Z. Spiesel, Ph DMD Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine


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