Treating Postpartum Depression

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

​​Editor’s Note: For simplicity and ease of reading, in this community, we use the term “mothers” to refer to pregnant people and those who have given birth. But we want to acknowledge that not all people who can get pregnant identify as women and that some people who give birth identify as men or nonbinary. We also recognize that parenthood exists in many forms, including adoptive and foster parenthood. Health Union strives to create an inclusive space while providing accurate health information.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mental health disorder that affects about 1 in 7 women after they give birth. PPD is not a sign of weakness or failure as a mother. It is caused by a combination of hormonal changes, mental health history, and environmental factors.1

The good news is that postpartum depression is treatable. There are several options available to help parents on their path to recovery. PPD can range from mild to severe. Treatment depends on how severe the PPD is.2,3

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is often one of the first lines of treatment for PPD. If a person is not responding to therapy alone, their doctor may prescribe medicine to help. Using therapy and medicine in combination to treat PPD is very common.2

Talk therapy

For mild to moderate postpartum depression, treatment usually starts with therapy. Speaking with a mental health expert who specializes in postpartum depression can give you coping strategies and a safe space to discuss your feelings.2

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Types of therapy that have been shown to improve symptoms of PPD include:2

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
  • Couples or family therapy

Talk therapy can help people with PPD identify negative thought patterns, change behaviors, and develop healthy coping methods.2

Prescription medicine

Antidepressants are often prescribed for people with PPD. These are drugs that help with depression. A primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe them. Antidepressants help balance the brain's chemical levels and lessen symptoms of depression.1-4

Types of antidepressants used to treat PPD include:1-4

Most antidepressants are considered safe to take while breastfeeding, but some drugs may not be. Talk with your doctor about what they recommend and what is most appropriate for you.2,3

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

If PPD is severe and other treatments have not worked, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be a treatment option. ECT involves sending controlled electrical currents through the brain to trigger a short seizure. During ECT, a person is put to sleep and carefully monitored by a medical team.1,3

ECT has been shown to be effective for those with severe depression who have not responded to other treatments. It might also be an option for those who cannot take or choose not to take antidepressants.3

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is similar to ECT. But instead of causing a controlled seizure, TMS uses electromagnetic fields to stimulate certain parts of the brain. It is a non-invasive procedure that does not require anesthesia.5

TMS is not used as often as other treatment methods for depression. But it may be an option for people who cannot (or choose not to) take prescription drugs or if other treatments have not worked. Studies have shown that TMS is safe and well tolerated for those with mild to moderate PPD. But more research is needed to determine whether the results last long-term.5

Supportive measures

Getting the right support is crucial when you are living with PPD. There are various ways you can get the support you need.

Join a support group

A support group for new moms with postpartum depression can give you a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and feelings with others who are going through similar challenges may help you feel less alone. It may also be a space to learn tips that have helped others.6

Open communication

Discuss your feelings openly with your partner, family, and friends so they can provide the emotional support you need.6

Lean on loved ones

Reach out to your partner or spouse, friends, family, or neighbors for help with daily tasks. Request help with practical things like cooking, cleaning, or doing the laundry. Ask a close friend or family member to watch the baby while you get some rest. Every little bit helps.6

Self-care

Caring for an infant is a challenging time, often with little to no sleep. But taking care of yourself is important, too. Do what you can. Prioritize sleep, engage in activities you enjoy, and make time to relax when possible. Also try going on short walks after your doctor says it is okay to exercise.6

Get help

Postpartum depression can negatively impact your well-being. But help and hope are available. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for your situation. This may involve a combination of therapies, medicines, and supportive measures.1,6

Before beginning treatment for PPD, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.