There’s a new treatment for postpartum depression — here’s how it can help you

Maternity
Behavioral Health
Mother kissing with her baby in her arms.

The nervous thrill of your first week at home together, the relief of settling into a feeding routine, the ups and downs of an unpredictable sleep schedule — life with a newborn is full of experiences that may have you feeling like you're on an emotional rollercoaster. But what if, instead of the usual dips and rises, that roller coaster just feels like a constant low?

Known as postpartum depression (PPD), some new moms experience longer-lasting feelings of depression as they adjust to the changes in their bodies and lives. Postpartum depression is common, and up to 15% of women experience it. PPD is more than the "baby blues," as symptoms persist much longer (for months or more) and are more intense.

"Psychotherapy and traditional antidepressants are evidenced-based, effective treatments for postpartum depression," says Kathryn M. Zagrabbe, MD, a psychiatrist with Main Line Health's Women's Emotional Wellness Center.

However, in August 2023, PPD treatment changed for the better. With the approval of the first oral medication specifically made to treat postpartum depression in women (called Zurzuvae), women can now have another option for obtaining relief from PPD.

A brief overview of postpartum depression

The changes you undergo after giving birth are significant — both physically and emotionally. Physically, you experience a major hormone drop after delivery. You're also recovering from either a vaginal or cesarean birth. Emotionally, bringing your baby home can come with a new set of worries about you and your baby, and you may also be wondering how this new addition will impact your life moving forward.

These shifts can lead to symptoms of postpartum depression, including:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Extreme worry
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Problems focusing
  • Feelings of anxiety around or lack of interest in your new baby
  • Thoughts of suicide

"PPD can also impact a mother's ability to bond with her newborn. Treating a mother for PPD helps protect baby's development as well," says Dr. Zagrabbe.

How treating PPD has improved in the past year

Getting support for postpartum depression is crucial to tackling its symptoms. In past years, treating PPD involved one or more of the following:

  • Therapy, which helps you cope with your feelings and navigate situations in a positive manner
  • Antidepressants
  • Other medications, such as ones to treat severe anxiety or insomnia

There's also a medication called Brexanolone. It was the first drug approved in the US specifically to treat PPD in adult women. By regulating hormones after childbirth, this medication can reduce the symptoms of PPD. However, because it's given through a vein over the course of 60 hours, treatment is not convenient and may be difficult to access.

With the approval of Zurzuvae — which is similar to Brexanolone, but an oral medication instead of an infusion taken once a day — women can treat their symptoms of PPD from the convenience of home. Alongside other treatments like therapy and traditional antidepressants, Zurzuvae has opened up another opportunity to effectively manage PPD.

If you think you might be suffering from PPD, your health care provider can review your health history and symptoms to diagnose you and discuss treatment. They may also order a bloodwork to rule out other medical issues, as PPD can have similar symptoms to other concerns, like thyroid conditions.

Treating postpartum depression: A comprehensive approach

As with many medical conditions, treatment for postpartum depression can vary. While new medications can help, it's also important to take care of yourself and rely on your support systems.

Some ways to navigate this postpartum transition include:

  • Getting as much rest as you can (and letting others help you so you can sleep)
  • Finding time to do activities on your own, with friends or with your partner
  • Expressing your feelings to someone you trust, such as supportive family members, friends or a therapist
  • Connecting with other new moms at local meet-ups or support groups

The Women's Emotional Wellness Center at Main Line Health provides outpatient mental health services to women before, during and after pregnancy, including for PPD. If you're not sure where to start, the team of women's health experts at Main Line Health can help you find support and resources to navigate postpartum depression and other women's health issues.

"By recognizing the signs of postpartum depression and getting help if you need it, you can prioritize your health and your baby's well-being during this important time," says Dr. Zagrabbe.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Kathryn M. Zagrabbe, MD
Learn more about Women's Emotional Wellness Center
How to support your partner during pregnancy