Health A-Z

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As with other types of depression, a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most helpful. If a mother is exhibiting signs of psychosis, she needs immediate medical attention.

The antidepressants used for treating other types of depression are also effective for postpartum depression. Among others, the choices include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine and the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) venlafaxine. As with depression treatment in general, there are many medication options available. The treatment you choose will be influenced by such factors as potential side effects or past treatments.

If you are breastfeeding, you are likely to have questions about the possibility of passing medication to your newborn. There are wide variations in the concentration of antidepressant in breast milk, depending on such things as the dose, your metabolism and when your baby feeds. Fortunately, most studies show little effect on the baby. Many mothers do choose to take antidepressants, but it is important to discuss the choices with your doctors to assess the risks and the benefits in your situation.

A number of psychotherapy techniques have been proven helpful depending on the nature of the stress, the cause of the depression and personal preference. Every woman with postpartum depression needs support as well as education about depression. Various types of psychological therapy are available.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to examine and to help correct faulty, self-critical thought patterns.

  • Psychodynamic, insight-oriented or interpersonal psychotherapy can help a person sort out conflicts in important relationships or explore past events or issues that may have contributed to the symptoms.

  • Couples therapy can help the mother and father figure out how to manage possible areas of disagreement or how best to organize child care and muster support.

You may begin to feel relief soon after starting treatment, but it usually takes at least two to six weeks before a clear improvement can be seen. You may need to try a few different approaches to psychotherapy or medication before you find the method most helpful to you. Keep trying until you get the help you need.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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