Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression Treatment Options
Most people do not like to think of themselves as having a mental illness or “disorder.” Mental health issues in pregnant and new moms continue to be stigmatized. Many women are told that their panic, worry, and tearfulness are “normal.”
Know that your experience may not “normal” for you. For this reason, it can be extremely helpful to have a name for your symptoms. Remember that during pregnancy and the first year postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are fairly common medical conditions. The term “postpartum depression” is used loosely to also include postpartum anxiety, panic disorder (panic attacks), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Talk to a healthcare provider you trust and receive a formal perinatal mental health assessment by a provider trained in treating perinatal illnesses. You can contact a trained WellMama volunteer at 1-800-896-0410 or Postpartum Support International. These hotlines can provide initial support and ideas on how to find appropriate evaluation and care.
About 10% of women will have thyroiditis during the postpartum period. Thyroid disorders can cause anxiety and depression. To rule out thyroiditis, a thyroid test (free T4, TSH, anti-TPO, anti-thyroglobulin) is recommended between two and three months postpartum if the mother is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Postpartum depression or postpartum adjustment support groups are not considered a form of treatment. However, the social support found in support groups is invaluable. Often friendships formed in these group settings last for long time. Supports can also provide education and resources on postpartum depression treatment options. Learn more about WellMama Support Groups.
Seeking treatment with a therapist who specializes in pregnant and postpartum women is important. These specialists, often called perinatal psychotherapists, are educated about pregnancy and postpartum depression treatment options. The therapist should be a member of an organization that serves perinatal women, such as Postpartum Support International.
Ask the therapist what type of therapy he or she would use. Research has shown that cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal psychotherapies are the most effective methods to treat postpartum depression. Treatment should include referrals to appropriate complementary resources, such as a support group or a psychiatrist, if appropriate.
An alternative method to pregnancy and postpartum depression treatment includes omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to prevent and treat mild to moderate depression in perinatal women at a dosage of 1000-3000mg combined DHA and EPA. These are considered safe for nursing and can be used safely along with psychotropic medications.
Another alternative treatment options include acupuncture, St. John’s Wort, and bright light therapy. Research has shown these to be effective postpartum depression treatment.
Postpartum doula care, massage, homeopathic remedies, chiropractic, yoga, hypnotherapy, and nutritional support are all being studied for effectiveness in prevention and treatment. You may wish to consider these options. Always check with your healthcare provider for safety, as some herbs and illegal drugs can cause serious damage to both mother and infant. Often alternative therapies can complement counseling and/or medication when provided by a licensed healthcare professional.
A range of medications exist for all types of pregnancy and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders for both lactating and non-lactating mothers. A mother should always thoroughly educate herself about medications and breastfeeding before making a decision to stop breastfeeding. Research supports that the benefits of breastfeeding definitely outweigh the potential risks of medications, but this is a very individual decision to make.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medications for depression, anxiety (including PTSD), OCD, and panic disorder. See a physician, preferably a psychiatrist, who has experience in providing postpartum depression treatment and psychotropic medications for lactating women.