Non-medical treatments for depression during pregnancy and postpartum

Medication can be a key part of treatment that leads to recovery for many women with depression during pregnancy. When medication is prescribed by a doctor, it’s because the benefits of treatment outweigh any risks. Not every medication will be right for every person living with depression, and sometimes medication alone is not treatment enough.  For many people, talk therapy is at the center of a treatment plan for depression during pregnancy. In addition to talk therapy, certain lifestyle changes can be helpful for lessening depression symptoms.

Talk therapy

Therapy can help pregnant women identify patterns in their depression, develop new strategies for managing symptoms and emotions, set realistic goals, and reframe their mindsets in positive ways. Therapy can also help patients discover ways of asking for help that works best for them, and generally helps people with depression feel heard, and respected.

Individual psychotherapy is the most commonly prescribed type of talk therapy recommended for the treatment of depression during pregnancy, but other types of therapy, including couples’ therapy and support groups might also be helpful. New parents who are having trouble navigating the changing family dynamics and responsibilities that come with having a new baby, for example, may benefit from couples’ therapy. Women who feel isolated, or who are dealing with problems or concerns their close family or friends can’t relate to, on the other hand, may find group therapy helpful as a form of support.

Lifestyle modifications

While medications and therapy are the two main pillars of treatment for postpartum depression, certain lifestyle modifications – or changes to daily habits – are thought to be helpful in relieving depression symptoms.

  • Sleep: Lack of sleep, and irregular sleep patterns, are both factors that can contribute to depression. Getting a good night’s sleep gives you more energy in reserve to handle challenges as they come up.
  • Exercise: Exercise produces endorphins, which can naturally boost moods. Most exercise is safe during pregnancy, but it’s still a good idea to check in with a healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise routine during pregnancy. Exercise isn’t a magic bullet, but having a modest, regular exercise routine can be a helpful part of recovery from depression.
  • Nutrition: Getting healthy, balanced nutrition during pregnancy is vitally important, and can feel overwhelming for depressed moms-to-be. Establishing habits like carrying around a water bottle, so that hydration is always easy and near at hand, or setting aside time for small meals and nutritious snack times can help pregnant women get the nutrition they need.

There is no complete cure-all for depression during pregnancy, but working with a team of healthcare providers who know you can help you find the combination of treatments that form the plan that works best for you. This plan may or may not include medication. Whether it does or not, you may find that a combination of lifestyle modifications and therapies are key parts of recovery as well.

Read more
  • Shannon K. Crowley, Shawn D. Youngstedt. “Efficacy of light therapy for perinatal depression: a review.”Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 31(1): 15. June 6 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Depression.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 11 August 2015. 21 June 2018.
  • Melissa Lee Phillips. “Treating postpartum depression.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 42(2): 46. February 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  • “Breastfeeding & Psychiatric Medication.” MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health. MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
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