As a second-time mom, Gwyneth Paltrow thought she knew what to expect from the newborn period when her son, Moses, was born 12 years ago. But, unlike when her older daughter was born, Paltrow experienced postpartum depression—only she didn't immediately recognize the symptoms.
"It was really shocking to me because I never thought that I would be a person who got postnatal depression," Paltrow recently said during an episode of the goop podcast, in which she was talking with her mom, Blythe Danner. "I was so euphoric when Apple was born, and I assumed it would happen with Mosey and it just… it took a while. I really went into a dark place."
Despite being in a "dark place," Paltrow said during a 2011 interview with Good Housekeeping that she believed until then that postpartum depression "meant you were sobbing every day and incapable of looking after a child." It was then-husband Chris Martin who encouraged Paltrow to seek help.
"About four months into it, Chris came to me and said, 'Something's wrong. Something's wrong.' I kept saying, 'No, no, I'm fine.' But Chris identified it, and that sort of burst the bubble," Paltrow said. "There are different shades of it and depths of it, which is why I think it's so important for women to talk about it. It was a trying time. I felt like a failure."
For Paltrow, the first step was realizing she had an important battle to wage. The second step was figuring out her strategy—and, as she revealed on the most recent episode of the goop podcast, her winning battle plan against postpartum depression involved alternative therapy.
"A doctor tried to put me on antidepressants and I thought, if I need them, then yes, I'll come back to it," Paltrow said, adding she realizes pharmacological options are "lifesavers for certain people for sure."
Although she was open to medication, she decided to start by changing her lifestyle. "I thought, well, what if I went to therapy and I started exercising again, and I stopped drinking alcohol and I just gave myself a period of regeneration and I slept more? I really broke out of it," Paltrow says in the podcast episode.
For many new moms, having a "period of regeneration"—let alone an uninterrupted block of sleep—can feel nearly impossible. But while few people have the resources that Paltrow does, her example demonstrates that no one can or should be expected to fight through postpartum mood disorders alone.
Research does back up Paltrow's claim that lifestyle changes can be beneficial when coping with depression. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, subjects with major clinical depression who modified their diets, exercise habits, amounts of sunlight exposure and sleep patterns over the course of six months "significantly" reduced their depressive habits as an overall group versus a control group.
As the researchers noted, this demonstrates lifestyle changes are ideal "complementary" therapies to traditional treatments for mood disorders.
By recognizing the nuances both in postpartum mood disorder symptoms and the ways they can be effectively managed, we're giving women more tools for coping—and conquering.