Medication options for postpartum depression

Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression is a medical condition that can last for a significant amount of time, especially if it’s left untreated. Seeking treatment for postpartum depression can be hard, especially for women who haven’t needed or looked for mental health treatment in the past.

But pregnancy, delivery, and early parenthood can all take a huge toll, both physically and emotionally, and with postpartum depression, that toll can have an effect on the whole family.

Women who feel they might be experiencing postpartum depression can best address it by acknowledging the problem and seeking out treatment. Treatment of postpartum depression may consist of talk therapy, medication, or some combination of the two.

If PPD is treated promptly and properly, the Mayo Clinic reports that PPD usually goes away within 6 months.

When medication is prescribed

For many women with PPD, medication is an important part of the treatment plan. A combination of medication and talk therapy is a common treatment for PPD. 

Two of the more common types of medication that are prescribed for PPD include selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine and sertraline, and venlafaxine, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). SSRIs and SNRIs both affect the way the body transports and processes serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that impacts many physical processes, including mood, sleep, and memory.

How do providers determine whether medication is necessary? When PPD is less severe, it’s generally recommended that women start treating PPD with talk therapy. Depending on how that goes, medication may be added to the mix. Depending on the severity of the depression, a healthcare provider may prescribe medication earlier on, instead of waiting to try talk therapy first.

Every case of PPD is different, and so is every woman who experiences it. It can take a little time to figure out the right treatment. Even once medication has been prescribed, it can take three to four weeks or more before it starts to take effect. Once the medicine starts to have an impact, the dosing or type of medication may still need adjustment.

For many women with PPD, it can be tempting to stop taking medication due to side-effects or because they feel they’re getting better. But stopping treatment, unless it’s at the advice of a healthcare provider, often leads to relapse, so it’s really important that women continue their treatment plan until their provider recommends otherwise. 

Breastfeeding and antidepressants

One of the biggest concerns around using medications to treat PPD is the question of how antidepressants might affect moms who are breastfeeding. Antidepressants like SSRIs are transmitted through breast milk, although only in small amounts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Mayo Clinic both report that certain antidepressants can be used during breastfeeding with only minimal risk.

If you’re being treated for postpartum depression, your doctor will be able to talk through the risks and the benefits of taking medications for postpartum depression.

Read more
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Postpartum Depression.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynacologists, December 2013. Web.
  • Katherine Harmony. “Mother’s Depression Can Go Well Beyond Children’s Infancy.” Scientific American. Scientific American, A Division of Nature America Inc. May 5 2010. Web.
  • Teresa Lanza di Scalea, Katherine L. Winser. “Antidepressant Medication Use during Breastfeeding.” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology. 52(3): 483-497. Web. September 2009.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Depression.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, August 11 2015. Web.
  • “Postpartum Depression.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA, July 2015. Web.
  • Melissa Lee Phillips. “Treating Postpartum Depression.” American Psychological Association. 42(2): 46. Web. February 2011.
  • M.J. Muller, et al. “Serotonergic overstimulation in a preterm infant after sertraline intake via breastmilk.” Breastfeeding Medicine. 8(3): 327-9. Web. June 2013.
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