Rethinking your treatment strategy for postpartum depression

Getting help from a healthcare professional for postpartum depression is a big step. It’s also often the beginning of a process, and not the immediate solution many parents are hoping for.

First, it takes some time, sometimes months, for treatment for postpartum depression to start to make a significant difference. Secondly, it’s not always possible to tell which will be the right treatment choice starting out. Sometimes, figuring out the treatment plan that’s right for you takes a little trial and error before you and your healthcare providers manage to get it right.

There are as many types of treatment plans as there are people dealing with postpartum depression, but there are a few ways that treatment plans commonly change change over time. 

Adding medication to the treatment plan

In less severe cases of PPD, many healthcare providers recommend beginning treatment with talk therapy, and then adding medication later, if therapy alone doesn’t have the effect they hope for. Some different kinds of talk therapy include group therapy, interpersonal therapy, couples therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, all of which are legitimate forms of talk therapy.

If the number of options for talk therapy seem confusing, don’t worry too much about finding the perfect one. Most therapists offer a mix of styles.

Even more than medication, talk therapy can take a little while before it starts to take effect, which means that it’s not always easy to tell if it’s working or not. In many cases, using medication as a way of treating PPD works best if it’s added to a routine that includes therapy, instead of replacing it. Even if therapy doesn’t feel like it’s making a big difference, it may have more of an impact with the addition of medication.

Adjusting medication

As with so many medications, when doctors start prescribing antidepressants, they often start by prescribing a lower dose, which may be gradually raised if needed. Beyond that, any different antidepressants are designed to do just about the same thing, but end up having different levels of effectiveness when prescribed to different people.

If your doctor prescribed an antidepressant, but it hasn’t started to make a difference after 3 to 4 weeks or so, it may be time to try adjusting either the medication or the dose.

Adding alternative therapies

Medication and talk therapy are the two most common and well-supported treatments for postpartum depression. But they’re not the only options that have ever been tried. Every case of postpartum depression is different, and sometimes, doing something a little different in addition to more common treatments can be helpful.

Other options include:

  • Light therapy: While there’s much less evidence to support the use of bright light therapy for postpartum depression than there is for seasonal affective disorder, there is a line of reasoning that suggests that using light therapy can help to counteract some common components of PPD like helping to keep sleep on track by regulating circadian rhythms, and increasing daytime alertness. There have only been a limited number of studies on the effect of bright light therapy on postpartum depression, but there are also fewer potential side-effects or downsides than many other forms of treatment. If you’re interested in exploring adding bright light therapy to your daily routine, your healthcare provider may be able to talk you through it further.
  • Lifestyle changes: Some studies suggest that lifestyle changes like adding regular exercise to your regular routine, finding ways to get as much sleep as possible, getting a healthy, balanced diet, and making sure to take some time to yourself can make a big difference. This might mean asking for extra help from friends and family during this time, or hiring extra childcare for a while, if that’s an option.

  • Shannon K. Crowley, Shawn D. Youngstedt. “Efficacy of light therapy for perinatal depression: a review.” J Physiol Anthropol. 31(1): 15. Web. 2012.
  • Elizabeth Fitelson, Sarah Kim, Allison Scott Baker, Kristin Leight. “Treatment of postpartum depression: clinical, psychological, and pharmacological options.” International Journal of Women’s Health. 3: 1-14. Web. 2011.
  • Melissa Lee Phillips. “Treating postpartum depression.” APA. American Psychological Association, 42(2): 46. Web. February 2011.
  • Charles Raison. “How long will my postpartum depression last?” CNN. Cable News Network, September 8 2009. Web.
  • Kate Kripke. “8 Types of Psychotherapy for Postpartum Depression Treatment.” PostpartumProgress. Postpartum Progress, Mar 21 2013. Web.
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