Medical Treatment For Postpartum Depression

Postpartum or postnatal depression is a medical condition causing women to feel sad and depressed after they give birth. Like other medical conditions, it can be diagnosed according to a list of common symptoms and can be treated with medication. If you think you may be a sufferer, you must seek help from your health care provider right away. You'll soon realize that you are not alone and, in addition to counseling and talk therapies, certain drugs may be prescribed to help you recover.

Is Medical Treatment Safe For My Baby?

Using medication to treat postpartum depression is a particularly sensitive issue. This is because it's often not just you as the mother who is at risk from possible side-effects; if you are breastfeeding, your baby may also be consuming drugs via your breast milk. Medical professionals consider clinical testing of drugs on mothers and babies to be unethical. Therefore knowledge about the actual quantities of drugs that pass from mother to baby via breast milk is limited. Nor do we know much about the long-term effects, if any, on breast-fed children. If you are considering medical treatment for your postpartum depression, you should raise these issues with your doctor in order to weigh the pros and cons. Medication is by no means excluded as a form of treatment for breast-feeding mothers, but you need to make an informed decision about what's best for you and your baby.

Thyroid Drugs

Postpartum depression has been linked to low thyroid function or hypothyroidism. Some women develop this condition during or after pregnancy. It's possible you even had it before you were pregnant but it went undiagnosed. Typical symptoms include fatigue and weight gain. The good news is that an under-active thyroid gland can be easily treated with thyroid hormone pills. While breastfeeding, it's very important to get your dose of thyroid drugs exactly right. This requires close cooperation with your doctor and strict adherence to his or her instructions! Most experts think a breast-feeding mother receiving the correct dose of thyroid medication will not pass on harmful quantities of the drug to her baby. Needless to say, you must not suddenly stop or change your dose without medical supervision; this could even reduce your breast milk production. Any new mother with a thyroid condition (under-active or over-active) must continue treatment as advised by her doctor.


Anti-depressant drugs combat your blues by changing the balance of mood-alerting chemicals in your brain. The argument for using them is that they help you to cope and enjoy early motherhood and therefore benefit both you and your baby in the long-term. Research has found between 50 and 70% of women suffering from postpartum depression show signs of improvement within a few weeks of beginning treatment with anti-depressants.

The two types of anti-depressants generally prescribed to postpartum mothers are tricyclic ADs (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This is because the quantities of these drugs passed to babies through breast milk are thought to be so small as not to do any harm. Of these two drugs, TCAs are thought to be the safest for breast-feeding mothers. However, they are not suitable for anyone with a history of heart disease, epilepsy or very severe depression (because overdose is fatal). SSRIs may therefore be used as an alternative.

Side effects for you as the mother range from blurred vision and nausea to a worsening of your depression and even suicidal thoughts. That's why it is so important that you keep your doctor updated on your progress and report any side effects immediately. A typical course of anti-depressants lasts four to six months and it can often take two to four weeks for them to start working. In fact, initial mild side effects may even clear up after this time.

Hormone Therapy

Most experts agree that the sudden plummet in estrogen and progesterone levels which occurs after childbirth may be a cause of postpartum depression. Therefore estrogen replacement therapy, known as hormone replacement therapy or HRT, may be prescribed to balance you out and get you back on track. As with other medical treatments, it's possible that hormones could be passed to your baby through your milk, so you should ask your doctor for as much information as possible before deciding on this treatment. Possible hazards for you as the mother include an increased risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke; however, many women feel that the benefits of HRT outweigh these risks.

Other Treatments

Drugs are by no means your only option. Many women with postpartum depression explore counseling and talk therapies or even combine these with medical care.

Don't Feel Ashamed For Seeking Help

Postpartum depression is becoming more and more widely recognized and more women than ever are coming forward to seek medical and psychological help for this condition. Some women, however, are still suffering in silence. Do not be one of them. Taking medication (or talking to a therapist) to help you recover is nothing to be ashamed of, even if this means you have to abandon breast feeding. On the contrary, this shows how much you want to give your baby the best possible start in life, with a mother who is physically and mentally strong enough to love and protect him or her.

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