4 Alternative Treatments For Postpartum Depression You Need To Know About

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 by Meg   •   Filed under Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can rear its ugly, no-good, dirty, rotten head anytime, including during pregnancy as discussed at length in the last post. And the earlier it begins, the more reluctant women tend to be about beginning drug treatment. Many women choose to forgo drug treatment altogether in the postpartum period, making it critical to find alternative therapies--though make no mistake, medications can be lifesavers for those suffering severe bouts of depression, anxiety or other conditions. So what to do? It isn't like we can just toss these women aside, unless you're Rush Limbaugh, in which case this is perfectly reasonable. I mean, about as reasonable as Rush fucking goats which I heard was totally his weekend guilty pleasure. 


Alright, let us forgo the beastiality for a moment and get back to the issue at hand: how to help the ladies who are uncomfortable with medication management during pregnancy and the postpartum period deal with a depressive episode. Because in addition to the standard advice of talk therapy and increased social support, there are a few other options for decreasing depressive symptoms postpartum.


Exercise has long been studied as a way to relieve anxiety and depression in the general population. According to researchers, postpartum women may enjoy the same antidepressant benefits1. This may be due, in part, to changes in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis following pregnancy.

Say what now?

The H-P-A system regulates hormones like cortisol and ACTH, things that affect mood. And research reports that trouble with regulating this system can lead to symptoms of postpartum depression5. Exercise can help to decrease this effect by purging some of these chemicals. 

Blood, sweat, and tears, baby. Because they all leech cortisol.

These decreases in depressive symptoms come about whether women engage in home-based exercise programs 2, or more vigorous programs3. Other research found that exercise had the ability to decrease fatigue in postpartum women, a trait experienced in both the depressed population and the general population alike 4. While the vigorous exercisers in one study 3 showed the most improvement, individual women should discuss exercise regimens with their health care provider to ensure safety in the postpartum period.

Bright Light Therapy

Postpartum depression tends to increase in the winter months8, suggesting that there may be an element of this disorder related to lack of light. Several studies indicate that bright light therapy may be beneficial to postpartum women678.This may be due to the decreases in natural light because postpartum women spend time indoors caring for infants. The benefits may also be due to the ability of bright light--including sunlight--to increase Vitamin D levels or help regulate hormones. Either way, it's cheap and you can do it at home.

Sunlight! Because exercise is for suckers!

On a related note:

Sarcasm! Because nothing says mental health like humor. (At least that's what I tell myself.)
However, some reports indicate that the sun may not be enough in susceptible individuals8. This means that an indoor light might work better.


If the thought of needles makes you queasy, there may be a new reason to bite the bullet (or pin as the case may be). Smaller-scale studies on pregnant women indicate that acupuncture might help alleviate depression9. Others have found that acupuncture is useful in the treatment of depression for the general population10. While more research may need to be conducted specifically on postpartum women, there are few risks if you choose a trained provider.

You're going to stick that where? (That's what she said.)


Studies hold that massage on postpartum mothers significantly decreases symptoms of postpartum depression11,12. While sample sizes were small, there is little downside to either a professional masseuse, or to having your partner give you a good rub-down. In the latter, it may be important to clarify that back rubs do not come with the expectation of sex. KNOCK IT OFF, FELLOWS!

I mean, unless you really want your backrub to come with a side of lovin'. In which case, have at it. 

On another note, massages given by mothers may also help her feel better. Research indicates that infant massage by mothers reduces symptoms of  postpartum depression 13. While the mechanisms are unclear, it may be due to the oxytocin bursts that come with contact or with enhancing mother's ability to read children's signals, leading to increased confidence. Whatever the reason, Infant Massage, by Vimala McClure, is a great place to look for techniques.

Whatever path a postpartum woman chooses for her health care, it's always nice to have options...and another reason to get a massage. 

Related Posts: 

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17207752
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19728220
  3. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1552-6909.1999.tb01963.x/abstract;jsessionid=E3BAEC0C6891B6325F26FA5AE2998C51.f02t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18373127
  5. http://brn.sagepub.com/content/8/3/210.short
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17701271
  7. http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=173979
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518242/
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15546651
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22762294
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16504900
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18086500
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12614602

Topic-Relevant Resources

Infant Massage
Illustrated guide on infant massage basics

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook
Great resource to keep you on track with exercises for overcoming anxiety, panic and phobias