Postpartum Depression

Topic Overview

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a serious illness that can occur in the first few months after childbirth. It also can happen after miscarriage and stillbirth.

Postpartum depression can make you feel very sad, hopeless, and worthless. You may have trouble caring for and bonding with your baby.

Postpartum depression is not the “baby blues,” which many women have in the first couple of weeks after childbirth. With the blues, you may have trouble sleeping and feel moody, teary, and overwhelmed. You may have these feelings along with being happy about your baby. But the “baby blues” usually go away within a couple of weeks. The symptoms of postpartum depression can last for months.

In rare cases, a woman may have a severe form of depression called postpartum psychosis. She may act strangely, see or hear things that aren't there, and be a danger to herself and her baby. This is an emergency, because it can quickly get worse and put her or others in danger.

It’s very important to get treatment for depression. The sooner you get treated, the sooner you'll feel better and enjoy your baby.

What causes postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression seems to be brought on by the changes in hormone levels that occur after pregnancy. Any woman can get postpartum depression in the months after childbirth, miscarriage, or stillbirth.

You have a greater chance of getting postpartum depression if:

  • You've had depression or postpartum depression before.
  • You have poor support from your partner, friends, or family.
  • You have a sick or colicky baby.
  • You have a lot of other stress in your life.

You are more likely to get postpartum psychosis if you or someone in your family has bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression).

What are the symptoms?

A woman who has postpartum depression may:

  • Feel very sad, hopeless, and empty. Some women also may feel anxious.
  • Lose pleasure in everyday things.
  • Not feel hungry and may lose weight. (But some women feel more hungry and gain weight).
  • Have trouble sleeping.
  • Not be able to concentrate.

These symptoms can occur in the first day or two after the birth. Or they can follow the symptoms of the baby blues after a couple of weeks.

If you think you might have postpartum depression, fill out this postpartum depression checklist(What is a PDF document?) . Take it with you when you see your doctor.

A woman who has postpartum psychosis may feel cut off from her baby. She may see and hear things that aren't there. Any woman who has postpartum depression can have fleeting thoughts of suicide or of harming her baby. But a woman with postpartum psychosis may feel like she has to act on these thoughts.

If you think you can't keep from hurting yourself, your baby, or someone else, see your doctor right away or call 911 for emergency medical care. For other resources, call:

  • The national suicide hotline, National Hopeline Network, at 1-800-784-2433.
  • The National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

How is postpartum depression diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any feelings of baby blues at your first checkup after the baby is born. Your doctor will want to follow up with you to see how you are feeling.

How is it treated?

Postpartum depression is treated with counseling and antidepressant medicines. Women with milder depression may be able to get better with counseling alone. But many women need counseling and medicine. Some antidepressants are considered safe for women who breast-feed.

To help yourself get better, make sure to eat well, get some exercise every day, and get as much sleep as possible. Seek support from family and friends if you can.

Try not to feel bad about yourself for having this illness. It doesn't mean you're a bad mother. Many women have postpartum depression. It may take time, but you can get better with treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about postpartum depression:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

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Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems. Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.
  Depression: Should I take antidepressants while I'm pregnant?

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  Depression: Dealing with medicine side effects
  Depression: Managing postpartum depression
  Depression: Taking antidepressants safely

Cause

Postpartum depression seems to be triggered by the sudden hormone changes that happen after childbirth. These hormonal changes most commonly lead to postpartum depression when paired with risk factors such as previous depression (including bipolar disorder), poor support from your partner, friends, and family, or a high level of stress.1

The hormone changes and grief following miscarriage and stillbirth also trigger PPD in many women.2

Symptoms

Postpartum blues. A certain amount of insomnia, irritability, tears, overwhelmed feelings, and mood swings are normal during the first days after childbirth. These "baby blues" usually peak around the fourth postpartum day and subside in less than 2 weeks, when hormonal changes have settled down. If you have postpartum blues after childbirth, you're not alone—more than half of women have temporary mild symptoms of depression mixed with feelings of happiness after having a baby.1

Be sure to report any feelings of postpartum blues to your doctor at your first postpartum checkup, so he or she can follow up with you.

Postpartum depression (PPD). Symptoms of postpartum depression can follow postpartum blues. They can feel like more of the same, or worse than before. Postpartum depression can also happen months after childbirth or pregnancy loss. In some cases, symptoms peak after slowly building for 3 or 4 months. Possible PPD symptoms require evaluation by a doctor.

If you have postpartum depression, you have had five or more depressive symptoms (including one of the first two listed below) for most of the past 2 weeks, including:1

  • Depressed mood—tearfulness, hopelessness, and feeling empty inside, with or without severe anxiety.
  • Loss of pleasure in either all or almost all of your daily activities.
  • Appetite and weight change—usually a drop in appetite and weight, but sometimes the opposite.
  • Sleep problems—usually trouble with sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping.
  • Noticeable change in how you walk and talk—usually restlessness, but sometimes sluggishness.
  • Extreme fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, with no reasonable cause.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Thoughts about death or suicide. Some women with PPD have fleeting, frightening thoughts of harming their babies: these thoughts tend to be fearful thoughts, rather than urges to harm.

Early treatment of PPD is important for both you and your baby. It may be helpful to make a list of postpartum depression symptoms that you can take to your doctor. Use this postpartum depression checklist(What is a PDF document?) .

Postpartum psychosis. This severe condition is most likely to affect women with bipolar disorder or a history of postpartum psychosis. Symptoms, which usually develop during the first 3 postpartum weeks (as soon as 1 to 2 days after childbirth), include:

  • Feeling removed from your baby, other people, and your surroundings (depersonalization).
  • Disturbed sleep, even when your baby is sleeping.
  • Extremely confused and disorganized thinking, increasing your risk of harming yourself, your baby, or another person.2
  • Drastically changing moods and bizarre behavior.
  • Extreme agitation or restlessness.
  • Unusual hallucinations, often involving sight, smell, hearing, or touch.
  • Delusional thinking that isn't based in reality.

Postpartum psychosis is considered an emergency requiring immediate medical treatment. If you have any psychotic symptoms, seek emergency help immediately. Until you tell your doctor and get treatment, you are at high risk of suddenly harming yourself or your baby.

What Happens

Postpartum blues and depression

Over half of all women have some mood-related symptoms during the first 2 weeks after childbirth. Most women with postpartum blues, or "baby blues," find that their mood swings, insomnia, overwhelmed feelings, and agitation go away within 2 weeks. But 1 out of 8 women develops longer-lasting postpartum depression (PPD) in the weeks to months after childbirth.1 The hormone changes and grief following miscarriage and stillbirth also trigger PPD in many women.2

Postpartum depression makes it hard for you to function well, including caring for and bonding with your baby. Babies of depressed mothers tend to be poorly attached to their mothers and to be slower in behavior, language, and mental development.3

Without treatment, PPD goes on for an average of 7 months and can continue for over a year.4 Prompt PPD treatment is important for both you and your baby. The earlier you are treated, the more quickly you will recover, the less your chances of repeat depression, and the less your baby's development will be affected by your condition.5, 2

Postpartum psychosis

In rare cases (up to 1 out of 500), dangerous postpartum psychosis symptoms—such as bizarre behavior, sight-, smell-, hearing-, or touch-related hallucinations, feeling detached from others and reality, and urges to hurt oneself or others—can suddenly occur within the first 3 postpartum weeks, as soon as 1 to 2 days after childbirth.4 These symptoms tend to be more severe than those of psychosis unrelated to childbirth and can trigger life-threatening behaviors without warning. Postpartum psychosis is more likely to affect women who have bipolar disorder or have had postpartum psychosis before.2

Postpartum psychosis is considered an emergency requiring immediate medical treatment and follow-up care. Often, psychotic symptoms that have been successfully treated can still be followed by postpartum depression symptoms that require further treatment.

For more information about what increases your chances of having postpartum depression and psychosis and of having them after more than one pregnancy, see the What Increases Your Risk section of this topic.

What Increases Your Risk

Every woman is at risk for temporary "postpartum blues" during the first 2 weeks after childbirth, because of sudden hormone changes and the challenges of caring for a newborn. Women who have miscarried or had a stillbirth are also at risk. Overall, 20% of women with postpartum blues go on to suffer from postpartum depression (PPD).

But there are also known factors that increase your risk of having long-term depression after pregnancy. If you have had postpartum depression before, you are at high risk of having it again. About 50% of women with a PPD history will have PPD after a later pregnancy.6 Other risk factors include:

  • Poor support from family, partner, and friends.
  • High life stress, such as a sick or colicky newborn, financial troubles, or family problems.7
  • Physical limitations or problem symptoms after childbirth.7
  • First-time pregnancy.4
  • Depression during a current pregnancy: 75% of women who are depressed during pregnancy will also have postpartum depression.6
  • Previous depression: 25% of women who have ever had depression will have PPD.6
  • Bipolar disorder , also known as manic-depression, which also increases the risk of dangerous psychotic behavior after childbirth.6
  • A family history of depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Previous premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is the severe type of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Postpartum psychosis

Risk factors for postpartum psychosis include:2, 4

  • A personal or family history of bipolar disorder. Women with this risk factor are 3 times more likely to have postpartum psychosis symptoms than women with no bipolar history.4
  • Previous postpartum psychosis.

If you have had postpartum psychosis before, you are at high risk for having psychotic symptoms again in the future.4 Your doctor will want to watch you closely, particularly if you become pregnant again.

When To Call a Doctor

Call 911 or other emergency services if you think you cannot keep from harming yourself, your baby, or another person. You can also call the national suicide hotline, National Hopeline Network, at 1-800-784-2433 or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

Call your doctor immediately if:

  • You are not having symptoms of postpartum depression (listed below), but you have hallucinations involving smell, touch, hearing, or sight or have thoughts that may not be based in reality (delusions). Examples of delusions are fears that someone is watching you, stealing from you, or reading your mind.
  • You have severe symptoms of postpartum depression.
  • You have any symptoms of depression and have had depression or postpartum depression before.
  • You have had any symptoms of depression for longer than 2 weeks. You don't necessarily have all possible symptoms when you have depression. Call sooner rather than later, before your condition gets worse.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Depressed mood—tearfulness, hopelessness, and feeling empty inside, with or without severe anxiety.
  • Loss of pleasure in either all or almost all of your daily activities.
  • Appetite and weight change—usually a drop in appetite and weight, but sometimes the opposite.
  • Sleep problems—usually trouble with sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping.
  • Noticeable change in how you walk and talk—usually restlessness, but sometimes sluggishness.
  • Extreme fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, with no reasonable cause.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Thoughts about death or suicide. Some women with PPD have fleeting, frightening thoughts of harming their babies: these tend to be fearful thoughts, rather than urges to harm.

Watchful Waiting

If your symptoms are new and not severe, you can wait up to 2 weeks to see if they will go away. Otherwise, call your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. The earlier you are treated, the more quickly you will recover, and the less your baby's development will be affected by your condition.5

Who To See

Your obstetrician may be the first doctor to note and diagnose PPD. This is one of many reasons why it's important to have a medical check 3 to 6 weeks after childbirth. Treatment for PPD ideally involves both medicine and some form of professional counseling. To effectively treat depression, it's important that you and your counselor have a comfortable relationship.

Diagnosis and medication management of postpartum depression can be provided by a:

Professional counseling can be provided by a:

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

Exams and Tests

Postpartum depression is a medical condition that requires treatment, not a sign of weakness. It isn't always obvious to an observer, and there are no laboratory tests for depression. This is why it's important that you tell your doctor about your symptoms.

It may be helpful to make a list of postpartum depression symptoms that you can take to your doctor. You don't necessarily have all possible symptoms when you have depression. Regardless of how many symptoms you have, talk to your doctor about any symptoms sooner rather than later, before they get worse. Use this postpartum depression checklist(What is a PDF document?) .

Your doctor will diagnose and recommend treatment for postpartum depression if you've had five or more of the following symptoms (including the first or second) for most of each day over the past 2 weeks:1

  • Depressed mood—tearfulness, hopelessness, and feeling empty inside, with or without severe anxiety
  • Loss of pleasure in either all or almost all of your daily activities
  • Appetite and weight change—usually a drop in appetite and weight, but sometimes the opposite
  • Sleep problems—usually trouble with sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping
  • Noticeable change in how you walk and talk—you may seem restless or move very slowly
  • Extreme fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, with no reasonable cause
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Although the most disturbing symptoms can be the hardest to talk about, it's especially important to tell your doctor about any urges to harm yourself or your baby. If you have compelling thoughts about hurting yourself or others, you must tell your doctor immediately and get treatment.

In addition to screening you for depression, your doctor may also check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels to make sure a thyroid problem isn't contributing to your symptoms.

Early Detection

If you have had depression, postpartum depression, or postpartum psychosis before, are now pregnant and have depression, or have bipolar disorder, ask your doctor and family members to watch you closely. Some experts suggest that high-risk women have their first postnatal checkup 3 or 4 weeks after childbirth, rather than the usual 6 weeks.2

Treatment Overview

Early treatment of postpartum depression (PPD) is important for you, your baby, and the rest of your family. The sooner you start, the more quickly you will recover, and the less your depression will affect your baby. Babies of depressed mothers can be less attached to their mothers and lag behind developmentally in behavior and mental ability.1

Treatment choices for postpartum depression include:

  • Counseling for both you and your partner.6 A form of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy has proved to be as effective as antidepressant medicine for milder postpartum depression.8 Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you take charge of the way you think and feel. Interpersonal counseling is also a good treatment choice for postpartum depression. (You may find a counselor who offers both cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal counseling.)8, 9 Interpersonal counseling focuses on relationships and the personal changes that come with having a new baby. It gives you emotional support and helps with problem solving and goal setting. For your partner, counseling may help with the demands of having a new baby. It can also help your partner support you.
  • Antidepressant medicine, which effectively relieves symptoms of postpartum depression for most women. Breast-feeding is also important for your baby, so talk to your doctor and your baby's doctor about an antidepressant medicine you can use while breast-feeding. Certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants are considered relatively safe for use while you are breast-feeding.10

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and decide on what type of treatment is right for you. Counseling and support are considered a first-line treatment for mild to severe PPD. Women with mild PPD are likely to benefit from counseling alone. Those with moderate to severe PPD are advised to combine counseling with antidepressant medicine.6

You may also benefit from:

  • A part-time or full-time mother's helper, which is recommended for both mild and more severe postpartum depression.6
  • Parent coaching or infant massage classes, for strengthening mother-baby attachment.

Your doctor may recommend a licensed counselor who specializes in treating postpartum depression.

What To Think About

Can I take antidepressant medicine and breast-feed my baby?

Treating your depression is very important for your baby. Breast-feeding is good for your baby's health and your baby's bond with you, too. At best, you will be able to treat your depression and breast-feed your baby. But if you decide to choose between taking medicine and breast-feeding, treat your depression.

Talk to your doctor and your baby's doctor about your antidepressant choices. Any antidepressant can get into breast milk, but some antidepressants do so in such small amounts that they can't be measured in the baby's blood.

  • Of the SSRIs, sertraline (Zoloft) is usually the first-choice medicine for breast-feeding mothers. It is most studied and generally does not seem to affect breast-feeding babies.10
  • There have been reports of side effects in babies exposed to paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and citalopram (Celexa).11, 12
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox) has not been well studied.

Some SSRIs, such as fluoxetine, are passed on to the breast-fed baby more than others. And every woman uses (metabolizes) and passes on medicine in different amounts. The level of medicine in your breast milk depends in part on when you take your daily dose. Talk to your doctor about when the level of medicine in your breast milk is lowest.

Researchers are studying children who breast-fed while their mothers took SSRIs. So far, they have seen no signs of unusual problems in these children into their preschool years.4

How long do I need to take antidepressant medicine for postpartum depression?

Antidepressants are typically used for 6 months or longer, first to treat postpartum depression and then to prevent a relapse of symptoms. To prevent a relapse, your doctor may recommend that you take medicine for up to a year before considering tapering off of it. Experts recommend long-term antidepressant treatment for women who have had three or more depressive episodes in the past.1

Prevention

Although you can't prevent the postpartum hormone changes that cause postpartum blues, you can take steps to prevent ongoing postpartum depression (PPD). If you have a history of depression or postpartum depression, you and your doctor have some other prevention options.

Basic prevention measures for every woman

To minimize the effects of postpartum hormonal changes and stress, keep your body and mind strong.

  • Ask for help from others, so you can get as much sleep, healthy food, exercise, and overall support as possible.
  • Stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs or medicines unless recommended by your doctor.
  • Close monitoring after childbirth is important. If you are worried about developing PPD, have your first postnatal checkup 3 or 4 weeks after childbirth, rather than the usual 6 weeks.2

Prevention measures for high-risk women

If you have had depression or postpartum depression before, you and your doctor can plan ahead to reduce your higher risk of postpartum depression. Consider the following options if you have:

  • A history of depression. If you have no depressive symptoms late in a first pregnancy, watchful waiting is recommended. But if you have a history of severe depression, some experts recommend counseling and support before childbirth. You and your doctor may choose to start antidepressant medicine after the birth to prevent PPD, particularly if you have had PPD before.6
    Click here to view a Decision Point.Should I take antidepressants during pregnancy?
  • A history of PPD. After childbirth, don't wait till symptoms develop—start with counseling and support (some women start counseling a couple of months before childbirth). You and your doctor may choose a combination of counseling and an antidepressant.6
  • Depression during pregnancy. If you are taking an antidepressant medicine during pregnancy, continue taking it into the postpartum period to reduce your high risk of postpartum depression.

Home Treatment

Postpartum depression is a medical condition, not a sign of weakness. Be honest with yourself and those who care about you. Tell them about your struggle. You, your doctor, and your friends and family can team up to treat your symptoms.

  • Schedule outings and visits with friends and family, and ask them to call you regularly. Isolation can make depression worse, especially when it's combined with the stress of caring for a newborn.
  • Eat a balanced diet. If you have little appetite, eat small snacks throughout the day. Nutritional supplement shakes are also useful for keeping up your energy.
  • Get regular daily exercise, such as outdoor stroller walks. Exercise helps improve mood.
  • Get as much sunlight as possible—keep your shades and curtains open, and get outside as much as you can.
  • Ask for help with food preparation and other daily tasks. Family and friends are often happy to help a mother with newborn demands.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Avoid using alcohol or other substances to feel better (self-medicating). Talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms that need treatment.
  • Don't overdo it, and get as much rest and sleep as possible. Fatigue can increase depression.
  • Join a support group of new mothers. No one can better understand and support the challenges of caring for a new baby than other postpartum women. For more information on support groups, talk to your doctor or see the Web site of Postpartum Support International at www.postpartum.net.

For more information on how to cope with your symptoms, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Managing postpartum depression.

The potential for domestic violence increases during a woman's pregnancy and when a couple is adjusting to a new baby. If your partner is violent or emotionally abusive, you and your baby are physically at risk, and you have an higher risk of postpartum depression. Now more than ever, it's crucial that you protect yourself and your baby—seek support and help. For more information, see the topic Domestic Violence.

Medications

Antidepressants are commonly used to treat postpartum depression (PPD), usually in combination with counseling and support.6

  • For moderate to severe PPD, experts recommend an antidepressant combined with support and counseling.
  • Some experts recommend starting an antidepressant for prevention in women at high risk for PPD, but so far no studies have shown this to be effective.11

Breast-feeding is good for you and your baby, both physically and emotionally. For this reason, experts have studied which antidepressants seem safest for breast-feeding babies. So, you need not stop breast-feeding while taking an antidepressant for postpartum depression.1

Whether or not you are breast-feeding, your doctor is likely to recommend a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This class of medication is highly effective for most women, with fewer side effects than tricyclics.2 Most tricyclic antidepressants can be used with minimal risk while a woman is breast-feeding. But for the mother, side effects are sometimes a problem.

Your doctor may start you out with a low dose to help you adjust to the medicine.

Medication Choices

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually the first-choice medicine for treating postpartum depression. Most SSRIs are thought to be safe for use while a woman is breast-feeding because in general SSRIs pass into the breast milk at low levels.

Tricyclics have not caused any known breast-feeding baby problems and are not passed on to a breast-feeding baby in measurable amounts (with the exception of doxepin [Sinequan, Zonalon], which is not considered safe while breast-feeding).1, 11

You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks of taking antidepressant medicine. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have questions or concerns about your medicines, or if you do not notice any improvement by 3 weeks, talk to your doctor.

Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Taking antidepressants safely
Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Dealing with medicine side effects

What To Think About

Antidepressants are typically used for at least 6 months, first to treat postpartum depression and then to prevent a relapse of symptoms. To prevent a relapse, your doctor may recommend that you take medicine for up to a year before thinking about discontinuing it. Experts recommend long-term antidepressant treatment for women who have had three or more depressive episodes in the past.1

Never suddenly stop taking an SSRI. An SSRI should be tapered off slowly and only under the supervision of a doctor. Abruptly stopping SSRI medicine can cause flu-like symptoms, headaches, nervousness, anxiety, or insomnia.

If you are breast-feeding and taking an antidepressant or any other medicine, let your baby's doctor know.

Taking an antidepressant you've taken before. After having your baby, talk to your doctor before taking any medicine, especially if you are breast-feeding. You may be more sensitive to medication side effects during your postpartum period, and may need a lower dose than before. Some medicines are considered safer than others for a woman who is breast-feeding.

Hormone therapy. Estrogen treatment for PPD has been studied on a limited basis. While women taking estrogen have shown improvement, many were also taking an antidepressant, making it difficult to know whether estrogen was responsible.4 Estrogen therapy is unlikely to become a common treatment for PPD, because it increases the risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) and of cancer in the uterine lining (endometrium). Adding progestin eliminates estrogen's endometrial cancer risk but is known to trigger PPD when taken after childbirth.13

Surgery

Postpartum depression does not require surgical treatment.

Other Treatment

Poor family and social support and high stress raise the risk of postpartum depression (PPD). For this reason, every woman with a new baby needs plenty of support from family and friends. Any special care you get will help you get through the challenges of the postpartum period.

More formal PPD treatment and prevention measures include cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal counseling. Light therapy has shown promise as a nonmedication treatment of depression, but has not been studied for postpartum depression. Parent coaching and infant massage can further enrich your relationship with your baby.

In rare cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used to treat severe forms of depression. Studies have shown that ECT is an effective short-term treatment for depression.14, 15

Other Treatment Choices

Counseling

Counseling has been proved to help prevent and treat depression during pregnancy and after childbirth.1 Experts recommend that both parents participate to improve treatment success.6, 11Cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal counseling are well-proven PPD treatments.8, 9 In one study, cognitive-behavioral counseling proved to be as effective as medicine for mild postpartum depression.8

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you take charge of the way you think and feel. In one study, women with PPD improved after one cognitive-behavioral counseling session and showed significantly greater improvement after six sessions.8
  • Interpersonal counseling (focusing on your relationships and the personal adjustments of having a new baby) provides emotional support and help with problem solving and goal setting. In one study, more women recovered from PPD after 12 interpersonal counseling sessions than did those who had no counseling.9

Alternative therapies

  • Light therapy can be used to treat depression, and it does not have severe side effects. Studies have shown that it improves depression during pregnancy, winter-related depression (seasonal affective disorder), and general depression.16 It has not yet been widely studied for postpartum depression. For light therapy, you sit in front of a high-intensity (2,500 to 10,000 lux) fluorescent lamp every morning, gradually building up to 1 to 2 hours a day.
  • Parent coaching offers both education and support for handling baby care and problems as well as for the personal and couple transition into parenthood.
  • Infant massage classes teach you skills for physically and emotionally bonding with your baby and give you a chance to spend time with other postpartum mothers.

What To Think About

Counseling and support are considered a first-line treatment for mild to severe PPD. Women with mild PPD are likely to benefit from counseling alone. Women with moderate to severe PPD are advised to combine counseling with antidepressant medicine.6

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Pregnancy Association
1425 Greenway Drive
Suite 440
Irving, TX  75038
Phone: 1-800-672-2296
Fax: (972) 550-0800
E-mail: questions@americanpregnancy.org
Web Address: www.americanpregnancy.org
 

The American Pregnancy Association is a national health organization committed to promoting reproductive and pregnancy wellness through education, research, advocacy, and community awareness. You can call a toll-free helpline or use the Web site to request patient education materials.


Mental Health America
2000 North Beauregard Street, 6th Floor
Alexandria, VA  22311
Phone: 1-800-969-NMHA (1-800-969-6642) referral service for help with depression
(703) 684-7722
Fax: (703) 684-5968
TDD: 1-800-433-5959
Web Address: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
 

Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association) is a nonprofit agency devoted to helping people of all ages live mentally healthier lives. Its Web site has information about mental health conditions. It also addresses issues such as grief, stress, bullying, and more. It includes a confidential depression screening test for anyone who would like to take it. The short test may help you decide whether your symptoms are related to depression.


National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
6001 Executive Boulevard
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD  20892-9663
Phone: 1-866-615-6464 toll-free
(301) 443-4513
Fax: (301) 443-4279
TDD: 1-866-415-8051 toll-free
E-mail: nimhinfo@nih.gov
Web Address: www.nimh.nih.gov
 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides information to help people better understand mental health, mental disorders, and behavioral problems. NIMH does not provide referrals to mental health professionals or treatment for mental health problems.


National Women's Health Information Center
8270 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive
Fairfax, VA  22031
Phone: 1-800-994-9662
(202) 690-7650
Fax: (202) 205-2631
TDD: 1-888-220-5446
Web Address: www.womenshealth.gov
 

The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. NWHIC provides women's health information to a variety of audiences, including consumers, health professionals, and researchers.


References

Citations

  1. Wisner KL, et al. (2002). Postpartum depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(3): 194–199.
  2. Miller L (2002). Postpartum depression. JAMA, 287(6): 762–765.
  3. Newport DJ, et al. (2002). The treatment of postpartum depression: Minimizing infant exposure. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 63(Suppl 7): 31–44.
  4. Parry BL (2004). Management of depression and psychoses during pregnancy and the puerperium. In RK Creasy et al., eds., Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice, 5th ed., pp. 1193–1200. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  5. Schulberg HC, et al. (1999). Best clinical practice: Guidelines for managing major depression in primary medical care. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7): 19–28.
  6. Altshuler LL, et al. (2001). The expert consensus guideline series: Treatment of depression in women. Postgraduate Medicine Special Report (March): 1–116.
  7. Howell EA, et al. (2005). Racial and ethnic differences in factors associated with early postpartum depressive symptoms. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 105(6): 1442–1450.
  8. Appleby L, et al. (1997). A controlled study of fluoxetine and cognitive-behavioural counselling in the treatment of postnatal depression. BMJ, 314(7085): 932–936.
  9. O'Hara MW, et al. (2000). Efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for postpartum depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57: 1039–1045.
  10. Whitby DH, Smith KM (2005). The use of tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in women who are breastfeeding. Pharmacotherapy, 25(3): 411–425.
  11. Brockingham I (2004). Postpartum psychiatric disorders. Lancet, 363(9405): 303–310.
  12. Weissman AM, et al. (2004). Pooled analysis of antidepressant levels in lactating mothers, breast milk, and nursing infants. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161: 1066–1078.
  13. Flores DL, Hendrick VC (2002). Etiology and treatment of postpartum depression. Current Psychiatry Reports, 4: 461–466.
  14. Butler R, et al. (2007). Depression in adults (drug and other physical treatments), search date April 2006. Online version of Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  15. UK ECT Review Group (2003). Efficacy and safety of electroconvulsive therapy in depressive disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet, 361(9360): 799–808.
  16. Golden RN, et al. (2005). The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: A review and meta-analysis of the evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(4): 656–662.

Other Works Consulted

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2008). Use of psychiatric medications during pregnancy and lactation. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 92. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 111(4): 1001–1020.
  • Howard L (2007). Postnatal depression, search date September 2006. Online version of Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  • National Institute of Mental Health (2005, addendum 2007). Medications for Mental Illness (NIH Publication No. 02-3929). Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health. Available online: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/medications/summary.shtml.
  • Sadock BJ, et al. (2007). Postpartum depression. In Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10th ed., pp. 859–869. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

Author Jeannette Curtis
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Updated June 24, 2008

Last Updated: June 24, 2008

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