Women undergo a radical and rapid hormone change in the weeks immediately preceding and following childbirth. These fluctuations can result in the mood disorder known as postpartum depression (PPD), which is estimated to affect around one in five mothers. Unlike “baby blues”, a short period of sadness associated with the drop in pregnancy hormone levels that resolves itself within 3-5 days, postpartum depression can persist for years if untreated.

The Risks of Not Treating Postpartum Depression

Many of the symptoms of postpartum depression overlap with those of the general mood disorder such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness; changes in appetite and sleep patterns; fatigue and lethargy. Like general depression, PPD can also range on a scale from mild, to moderate or severe. When left untreated, severe cases can progress into postpartum psychosis.

Hurts the Bond Between Mother and Child

One of the most notable differences is that PPD can affect the mother’s ability to bond with their baby. Research has found that depressed mothers may be more hostile towards their child, have reduced sensitivity, and reject their infants. 

This can lead to increased feelings of stress for the parent, especially as they may hesitate to share their symptoms for fear of social stigma, while also harming the child’s physical and psychological development. 

Children of mothers with an impaired bond face an increased risk of behavioral and psychiatric problems. In some of the most severe instances, mothers may have thoughts of harming themselves or their baby.

Breastfeeding Difficulties

Postpartum depression has also been found to have a direct correlation with breast milk production. Oxytocin is one of the key hormones in regulating lactation and low levels are frequently observed in instances of unwanted early weaning. Low oxytocin levels during the third trimester are linked to an increased likelihood of depressive symptoms. In fact, the onset of postpartum depression and the inability to lactate typically occur at the same time. 

Breastfeeding is a major predictor of an infant’s health outcomes with increased risks of otitis media, diarrhea, lower respiratory tract infection, sudden infant death syndrome, leukemia, and type 1 diabetes. Weaning too early can also affect mothers, resulting in increased risks of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and myocardial infarction.  

Medical experts recommend exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months. Introducing solids too early can be harmful to an infant since their digestive systems and kidneys aren’t fully developed. 

5 Types of Postpartum Depression Treatments


Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is usually one of the first PPD treatments a doctor will suggest. It helps individuals identify negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies to manage depressive symptoms and is most effective for new mothers with mild to moderate postpartum depression.

Another postpartum depression therapy that may be suggested is interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). This is especially helpful for improving the relationship between the mother and her partner, as a perceived lack of support can add to PPD risk factors.


Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed in moderate to severe cases of PPD. These medications work by balancing brain chemicals that affect mood. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to discuss medication’s benefits and potential risks during breastfeeding. Postpartum depression medications are most effective when taken in conjunction with some form of therapy.

However, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is often suggested as an alternative postpartum depression treatment while breastfeeding (even though it is generally safe to do so) for individuals who aren’t responding to psychotherapy or medications. It uses magnetic waves to stimulate and activate nerve cells. It is safe and noninvasive and involves 5-6 treatments per week, with results occurring around week four or five. 

Brexanolone is another potential option for those with moderate to severe PPD, who don’t respond to antidepressants. It’s the first FDA-approved postpartum depression medication (approved in March 2019) and clinical trials show rapid effects. Brexanolone is taken intravenously and requires continuous monitoring by a physician for 2 and a half days. Availability is limited and can only be found at certain certified healthcare facilities. 

Support groups

Joining support groups or participating in counseling sessions specifically tailored for women experiencing postpartum depression can provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and receiving support from others going through similar challenges can be beneficial.

Lifestyle modifications

Encouraging self-care activities, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and involving a support network of family and friends, can help alleviate symptoms of PPD. In severe cases where symptoms persist or worsen despite other interventions, hospitalization or specialized treatment programs may be necessary.

It’s important to remember that treatment for postpartum depression should be individualized, and the best course of action depends on the severity of symptoms and the woman’s overall health. Gynecologists and mental health professionals can provide appropriate guidance and treatment options based on a comprehensive evaluation of each individual’s situation.