top of page

Exploring the Link Between Diet and Postnatal Depression

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are transformative stages in a woman's life filled with joy, love, and new challenges. We finally have that tiny wee human that we have thought about every day for the past 9+ months! It should be the best time of our lives right? The truth is that postpartum depression effects ~17% of all new mums in New Zealand.

Why are we more vulnerable to experiencing depression in the postpartum period?

The exact cause isn't fully known, but there are so many moving parts associated with having a new baby that can absolutely contribute to making you feel low. These include:

  1. Hormonal Changes: In particular, the drop in progesterone and estrogen following childbirth can cause big changes in mood.

  2. Sleep Deprivation: Noone can truly understand the impact of sleep deprivation until they have experienced it. Low mood is absolutely a knock on effect of too little sleep and having a newborn doesn't really help us to get our 7+ hours/ night!

  3. Emotional Adjustment: Our body has changed, everything around us has changed, we have no time for ourselves, and somehow the rest of the world carries on! It can be an overwhelming, lonely time where we navigate adjusting o our new life with a tiny new person.

Emerging research suggests a connection between what we eat and the risk of postpartum depression (PPD). It's important that if you are feeling low, you have a chat with someone like your partner, midwife, or plunket, as there are strategies and support systems there to support you. I wanted to share with you some of the key pieces of research around dietary strategies to promote optimal mental health, and get you feeling like yourself again.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

These essential fats found in fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are crucial for brain function and can have a positive impact on mood regulation. Start with making sure that you include oily fish in your diet (fresh, tinned, or frozen) 2-3 times each week. You could do this through foods like a fish pie in the evening, or a salmon quiche or tuna wrap for lunch throughout the week. If you know you aren't eating enough omega 3 then you could add in a supplement. Choose one with atleast 1000mg EPA+DHA ( at least 200mg of DHA/day).

B Vitamins:

Foods rich in B vitamins, such as whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, and eggs, are important for neurotransmitter synthesis and energy production, which can positively influence mood and mental well-being. The best way to boost B vitamins is by having 4-6 servings of wholegrain foods each day. Porridge, overnight oats, baked oats, homemade muesli bars, oaty fruit muffins (low sugar), or my mood-boosting bikkies (below). If you decide to supplement with vitamin B, just make sure that you don't end up exceeding the safe limit. Vitamin B12 is generally pretty safe but B3 and B6 in particular can have adverse effects at high levels. If you are taking supplements then I encourage you to check in with a dietitian and make sure that you aren't overdosing.


Colourful fruits and vegetables, berries, leafy greens, some herbs and spices are packed with antioxidants that protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially reducing the risk of postpartum depression. Focusing on a reduction in inflammation can also support the body to heal faster following your birth. Try some easy steps like smoothies packed with mixed berries, grating pear and apple into your morning oats, chopping some fruit and veggies (or asking your partner to) and storing in a small container for easy access across the day. Find ways to include fruit and veggies in your diet that you actually really enjoy, and you will find getting your serving recommendation of 5 veg and 2 fruit a day super easy.


Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria that support gut health. Mounting evidence suggests a strong connection between gut health and mental health- which you might have heard before as the "gut brain axis". The evidence on mood and probiotic supplements isn't fully established, but is growing. If you decide to try a supplement, have a chat with your doctor or dietitian first and make sure that you monitor yourself for adverse GI symptoms. Sometimes it can take a few days for your body to adjust! Probiotic strains that have been linked with better mood that you could look for when choosing supplements include "lactobacillus rhamnosus GG", and the common "Bifidobacterium longum".


Dehydration can make us feel lethargic, flat, and ultimately impair our brains ability to think rationally. Drinking enough water is a simple step to better mental health with most adults needing atleast 2L every day. To make it easier, buy a drink bottle that you love and keep your water cold to make it more appetising. An easy rule of thumb to monitor hydration is to aim for pale yellow urine across the day.

In summary:

While diet alone cannot guarantee immunity from postpartum depression, evidence strongly suggests that adopting a nourishing diet during pregnancy and the postpartum period can have a positive impact on mental well-being. Creating a meal plan that supports you to eat nutrient dense foods, a variety of nutrient profiles, and supplement appropriately when needed, can support your overall health and potentially reduce your risk of postpartum depression. Remember, taking care of your mental health is just as important as caring for your physical well-being during this transformative time and you are absolutely not alone.


Mood (and milk!) boosting bikkies:

  • 2 1/4 cups rolled oats

  • 1/4 cup flour

  • 1/8 cup brown sugar

  • 1-2 Tbsp brewers yeast (unnecessary if not breastfeeding, but does give it an interesting flavour!)

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 100g butter or coconut oil

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds

  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate (chopped roughly)


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius

  2. Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl

  3. Roll into balls with damp hands and place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper

  4. Press down with a damp fork or damp fingers and place into the oven for 15 minutes or until golden.


bottom of page