When symptoms of extreme sadness, crying, and irritability, along with eating, sleeping, and concentrating issues, last beyond a week or two after giving birth, you might be experiencing more than just those baby blues we’ve all heard about. 

Research shows that an estimated 1 out of 10 women in the United States will suffer from the condition commonly referred to as postpartum depression (PPD). Today, it’s clinically known as peripartum depression, and it’s a common complication of childbirth that can be successfully relieved with postpartum depression treatment and/or medication. 

Treating acute or severe postpartum depression can improve your quality of life by reducing common postpartum depression symptoms like unstable emotions, irritability, extreme sadness, inability to find joy, etc. Treatment for postpartum depression in postpartum women is critical and can prevent future issues that may otherwise result from significant suffering. In extreme cases, when left unmanaged, postpartum depression can lead to injury to the mother or baby, suicidal ideation, or infanticide.

If you’re a new mother and are having trouble coping with your new life during this postpartum period, it’s essential that you seek postpartum depression help. Keep reading to learn more. 

Types of Treatment for Postpartum Depression

People who often experience PPD wonder how is postpartum depression treated? The first step in postpartum depression treatment is getting an accurate diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-5) notes that PPD is a type of severe depression (a major depressive disorder). It can be discovered during pregnancy, although it typically begins about 1 month after giving birth. 

PPD is complicated. It can present in emotional, behavioral, and physical changes that become unbearable, affecting daily functioning and the ability to take care of yourself and your baby. Fortunately, there are several effective treatment options available for new mothers, including therapy, medication, and holistic or self-help techniques. 

“Postpartum depression has come to be increasingly accepted as a ‘true’ mental health diagnosis in the public eye over the last few years. Seeking help for PPD is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby!”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

Psychotherapy (or talk therapy) for postpartum depression

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is often used to treat someone who may be experiencing postpartum depression. While it can be used alone, sometimes for an even more effective outcome, talk therapy might be used in combination with antidepressant medication during this postpartum period. 

Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. They can refer you to a mental health professional who’s skilled and experienced in treating this type of depression.

How does psychotherapy treat postpartum depression?

Psychotherapy is typically the first line of treatment for PPD. Talking about feeling overwhelmed or your loss of interest in your baby can often help. Both individual and group talk therapy can be important in healing and building back your confidence and learning how to be happy again. Therapy can help you quickly strengthen the connection and bond with your baby.

Types of psychotherapy for postpartum depression

There are several types of psychotherapy for perinatal depression or postpartum depression treatment. Any of (or a combination of) the following might be effective:

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)Considered one of the most beneficial and effective forms of therapy to treat PPD. IPT aims to offer symptom relief in a short period of time (typically just 12-16 weeks). A therapist will help you understand and address the source(s) of your distress. 
  • Solution-focused brief psychotherapy — Instead of delving into your past experiences, this postpartum depression treatment focuses on setting immediate and short-term goals based on your strengths while temporarily avoiding the root cause of current problems.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — Effective for treating anxiety and depression and can help you identify and acknowledge unhealthy thought patterns. You’ll learn to re-evaluate negative thoughts and explore different, more positive behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) — DBT teaches you to be more mindful of your actions. It works to improve tolerance for stress and distress by focusing on how to regulate your emotions.

Medications for postpartum depression

Postpartum depression help can also include anti-anxiety and/or antidepressant medication. Note that medication can often take several weeks to be fully effective. When taking any sort of medication for mental health conditions, it’s important to be patient. Correct dosage amounts and types of medication can take some adjustment to get right. 

How does medication treat postpartum depression?

Medication for postpartum depression treatment can affect certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are responsible for mood swings, emotions, and behavior. Anxiety, acute or severe depression, bipolar disorder, sadness, and irritability can all potentially improve with the use of medication.

Types of medication for postpartum depression

Understanding how to treat postpartum depression with medication is important. Types of medications your doctor might suggest can include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and more. 

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — Often considered the first-choice treatment for PPD. Paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft) have all been researched for PPD treatment.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) — Used off-label for PPD treatment, SNRIs can raise serotonin levels and the brain chemical norepinephrine. This is typically only tried if SSRIs don’t work. Examples of SNRI medications include duloxetine (Cymbalta) or venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants — Tricyclic antidepressants like Nortriptyline might be prescribed, but some research suggests they can cause more side effects. As such, they’re not typically used as a first-line treatment for PPD. Nortriptyline works on multiple chemical messengers but most effectively targets serotonin and norepinephrine. 
  • Other antidepressants — Some other antidepressant medications, like Wellbutrin SR might be prescribed off-label too. Again, these aren’t typically tried initially. 
  • Zulresso (brexanolone) — The only FDA-approved medication to treat PPD. It’s thought to work by affecting GABA receptors. Studies show significant improvement in depressive symptoms in a woman trying to cope with postnatal depression. 

Holistic treatment for postpartum depression

How is postpartum depression treated with natural remedies? Holistic treatment approaches treat the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. Holistic therapy often includes nutritional support along with taking vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements. Deficiency in many nutrients can exacerbate the postpartum depression symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and mental confusion.

Holistic approaches should be only attempted under the guidance of qualified and experienced mental healthcare experts. Some options for holistic treatments can include:

  • Group or talk therapy
  • Meditation and breathwork
  • Somatic experiencing (SE)
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Tai chi
  • Grounding
  • Sound baths

Keep in mind that some holistic therapies are considered experimental or unproven. Most of them should only be used as complementary approaches in addition to therapy and/or medication. 

Seeking fast and appropriate postpartum depression treatment can be critical to the health and wellbeing of yourself and your baby.

Benefits of a holistic approach

Holistic approaches can take time, and some treatments, like group therapy and yoga, depend on a supportive community and an experienced practitioner.  

Including mindfulness-based strategies like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises, along with a balanced diet and regular, moderate physical exercise, can help you achieve the best possible results from any treatment for postpartum depression. 

Other holistic therapies like massage and grounding for postnatal depression might be a bit less common, but they can also be beneficial to use in addition to more traditional forms of therapy. 

“Whole-person approaches are some of the most effective ways to find long-term relief from symptoms of postpartum depression. These include mindfulness-based strategies like yoga, along with a balanced diet and moderate exercise, which can help sustain the gains achieved through therapy and medication (if needed).”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

Find Treatment for Postpartum Depression with Talkspace

Today, finding postpartum depression help is easier than in the past, when PPD was not considered a distinct disorder. Postpartum depression can be a complex phenomenon triggered by the birth of a child. It can have a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional effects that can severely impact your ability to care for yourself or your newborn child.

Your first step should be to speak with your OB/GYN doctor. This is a good starting point so you can get a qualified referral and be assessed by a licensed professional mental health provider. Then, with a perinatal depression or postpartum depression diagnosis in hand, you can explore treatments like therapy, medication, and holistic options. 

A postpartum depression diagnosis includes a postpartum depression screening, usually by questionnaire, along with blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions or depression like hormonal depression. In very extreme cases, patient hospitalization may be necessary if a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis is found. This rare but acute and severe postpartum depression can result in delusions, hallucinations, and/or hyperactivity.

Getting therapy can be easy and convenient when you go through Talkspace, an online therapy platform that’s changing how people think and feel about therapy. Online therapy can make it simple to get the help you need, and when you’re a busy new parent, convenience is everything. Don’t wait another day to reach out. You (and your baby) deserve help — we can make sure you get it. 

Medically reviewed by: Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S

Reviewed On: April 27, 2022