Top 10 Ways To Treat Postpartum Depression

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 by Meg   •   Filed under Postpartum Depression

May is officially Postpartum Depression Awareness month. And while there probably should be an official Postpartum Anxiety month, or a Postpartum OCD month, or a Postpartum  Psychosis month, we'll do the best we can with what we've got. Because no matter what's plaguing you after childbirth, you are not alone.  

Postpartum depression affects between ten and twenty percent of new mothers. While there are several different theories about cause (discussed here and here), treatment is available to women faced with this condition. In a comprehensive review, published in the "International Journal of Women's Health", researchers identified both traditional and experimental therapies that may be effective for women suffering from postpartum depression1.


Many women with PPD are treated similarly to those with major depression and related disorders. That means that the first line of treatment recommended is often antidepressant medication. 

While drug treatment of PPD may be as effective as drug treatment of major depression, concerns about medications passing into breast milk tend to reduce the likelihood that women will take pills. Some mothers are even encouraged to stop breastfeeding in order to comply with medications. However, cessation of breastfeeding may itself trigger deepening depression and anxiety(discussed here)

Researchers also cited estrogen treatment as potentially helpful, though research is limited. However, hormonal interventions tend to carry high risks and side effects. A list of the most common medications and their safety profiles during breast feeding can be found here2

Types of Psychological Interventions

There are a few different types of talk therapy that may help postpartum women. Not only does therapy expose mothers to new coping skills, but it may also fulfill an innate drive towards support.

The current study identified 4 different types of therapeutic interventions that are effective in decreasing PPD symptoms. Most shrinks use some combination of the following therapies:

Interpersonal Psychotherapy: 

  • Focus on depression as medical/physical problem
  • Modifies interpersonal issues such as relationship troubles and social supports 
  • Short term (usually less than 4 or 5 months)

What it looks like:
"Let's look at how the relationships around you are affecting your emotions and work to build better ones."

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Focus on depression as the result of distorted thoughts
  • Works to change negative thought patterns to change behavior
  • Time variable (No time limit imposed)

What it looks like:

"Let's look at what negative thoughts are making you unhappy, and find a way to challenge them so that you can avoid sadness as a response."

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

  • Focus on depression as a result of unconscious content, insight from patient critical
  • Patient-focused, non-directive
  • Focus on nonjudgmental listening, not advice

What it looks like:
"What would you like to talk about?....Hmmmm....very interesting....Why do you think you chose that topic?"

It is possible that this one is even more effective if done while lying on a chaise lounge with a shrink who looks like a skinny Santa Claus. The jury is still out on that though.


Support Interventions

  • Peer support/phone calls
  • Spousal support
  • Visitation by other supports (friends, church members, work acquaintances, or other trained or untrained health care workers)

What it looks like:
"Hey, just calling to check on you."
"Honey, let me make dinner tonight."
"Girl! Let me tell you about what's going on over at Jennie's! Did you hear she's pregnant again? Oh wait...did you want to talk about something else? And where do you keep the wine?"

Researchers note that there are a few other therapies that may help treat PPD. Though treatments are often seen as experimental, there are minimal risks and possible health benefits for both mothers and their children with the following treatments (more on all in this post):

  • Bright light therapy 
  • Acupuncture 
  • Massage 
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation 
  • Exercise 

With the wide range of available treatments, women should be able to find one that helps alleviate their symptoms. But no matter what route you choose, no woman should try to go it alone. 

Get help. You're worth it. 

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Topic-Relevant Resources

Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic: Workbook (Treatments That Work)
Worksheets, exercises and other tools to use both before and during panic attacks to retrain your brain and reduce symptoms

The Mindfulness Solution
Meditative and cognitive techniques for everyday use

Against Depression
Detailed explanations of the systems involved in depression along with personal stories of success from psychiatrist Peter Kramer.

When Panic Attacks
Detailed overview of cognitive behavioral techniques for changing negative thought patterns