Choosing A Treatment For Postpartum Depression: Medication, Therapy, Or Both?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

Determining the best course of action after receiving a Postpartum Depression diagnosis can be difficult. Although there is a standard mode of treatment available for parents who have received this diagnosis, many parents are hesitant to select a treatment plan, worried about potential side effects for them and their infant child (and any other children in the home). Despite the initial hesitance found in many parents, Postpartum Depression can worsen over time, making treatment a necessary step on the way to recovery.

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Postpartum Depression: Standard Treatment

Although there are standards for care, there is no standard of treatment for all people diagnosed with Postpartum Depression because everyone who receives this diagnosis is made up of unique life circumstances, biological needs, and biological limitations. Typically, treatment involves psychotherapy and medication, but it may include other healing modalities. It may focus more intensely on medication or therapy than devoting an equal amount of energy and attention to both. Treatment may also involve lifestyle changes to manage some of the factors that can contribute to depression, including the sleep deprivation and feelings of overwhelm that typically accompany new parenthood.  

If you suspect you are showing PPD symptoms but are nervous about reaching out for help, consider taking a simple Postpartum Depression quiz. Quizzes like these are not clinical diagnostic tools but can help identify any behavior or thought patterns that indicate the presence of PPD, which can help spur the decision to reach out for help. Standard treatment for Postpartum Depression involves mental health professionals in one form or another, which makes it important for parents suffering from PPD symptoms to feel safe and comfortable speaking about their symptoms with therapists and psychiatrists who are conducting initial evaluations, creating prescription treatment plans, and identifying the best route for psychotherapeutic treatment.

Postpartum Depression: Medication Focus

Medication is one of the first-line treatments for Postpartum Depression because PPD can pose a significant risk to both a mother and a child. There is not always a great deal of time to expend to enlist psychotherapy. In some cases, PPD medication is used to ease depressive symptoms while establishing a consistent and effective therapy routine. In others, postpartum medication is the most significant focus of the treatment regimen, aiming to keep symptoms under control for the duration of most Postpartum Depression (the first year of an infant’s life). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered the best medication for PPD, and as a consequence, they are the most common antidepressants for Postpartum Depression.

A medication focus might start with a specific type of medication that may need to be changed later and may require some parenting shifts. Not all medications are safe for use during breastfeeding, for instance, changing how a family chooses to feed a newborn. Some medications can have significant side effects, which can require other interventions, as is the case with medications that can cause hormonal changes and appetite shifts.

Some have decried a medication focus, but if new parents take anything away from a postpartum diagnosis, it is this: the pursuit of health is important in the effective care of a child, and PPD treatment is no different. Pharmaceutical intervention is often the best and most effective method used to manage symptoms of moderate to severe PPD and can provide a great deal of relief for parents, including an increased ability to bond with their infant child, improved mood, and improved sleeping and eating patterns. Medication for PPD is not an indication of a failed parent but is instead an indication of a parent striving to heal and take care of themselves and their child.

Postpartum Depression: Therapy Focus

Psychotherapy and interpersonal therapy are typically considered the best treatment modalities for mild to moderate Postpartum Depression, as this type of intervention is typically adequate in treating milder symptoms. Family therapy can be utilized for parents who are both suffering from PPD symptoms. Although PPD is often seen as a purely feminine issue, parents of all genders can experience Postpartum Depression symptoms and qualify for a therapy-focused treatment regimen.

The focus of Postpartum Depression therapy is similar to the therapy used for other depressive disorders. During PPD therapy, patients will learn how to develop more effective coping mechanisms to manage depressive symptoms and learn how to approach the thoughts and feelings that accompany depression through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although there are certainly genetic and biological facets of depression, talk therapy can help manage the symptoms and create healthier thought patterns that can recognize and battle mental states that contribute to depression—even those triggered by genetics.

Understanding how your brain works in the midst of depression symptoms is often an integral part of undergoing therapy for depression. Understanding emotional reactions and passing thoughts can help take some of the apprehension away from the experience of having an intense emotional response or a frightening or disturbing thought. As part of most therapy treatment plans, new parents are encouraged to understand, recognize, and embrace their feelings and learn how to manage those feelings and thoughts, rather than ignore or fight against them.

Best Approach For PPD

The best approach for PPD is a varied approach that recognizes the potential need for multiple treatment avenues and a flexible approach. A Postpartum Depression drug is likely to function best alongside psychotherapy and other therapy modalities, rather than being the sole form of treatment, just as psychotherapy is often best implemented along with meds for Postpartum Depression Because Postpartum Depression has so many different components involved—sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, constant demands, the pressure of parenting an infant, and extreme changes to what was considered normal or routine, to name a few—there are many different approaches and avenues used to effectively and safely treat the symptoms of Postpartum Depression.

Catching Postpartum Depression early is, like most disorders, the best way to treat the condition effectively and lessen the likelihood of Postpartum Depression extending past the typical time frame of one-year post-birth. While Postpartum Depression is no longer clinically diagnosed after a year has passed, parents can transition seamlessly from Postpartum Depression to a depressive disorder if PPD symptoms go unacknowledged and untreated. Treating PPD can help ward off other forms of depression, as the treatments involved in PPD do not differ dramatically from those used in other depressive disorders.

Some additional therapies have been suggested for PPD treatment, including supplementation with fish oil and other brain-healthy oils, an increased focus on healthy eating and adequate exercise, and additional efforts to improve sleep quantity and quality. Additionally, partner support has been cited as a tremendous source of help and solidarity during the treatment process. Parents who support a partner, parent, or close friend during the treatment process may fare better than those who do not have an additional source of support. Fortunately, if this is not possible, support groups can provide a similar source of aid.

Overcoming Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression is a treatable disorder linked to a highly sensitive and emotional time in a person’s life and can come along with a great deal of emotional baggage. Although many mental health conditions have plenty of stigma and discomfort surrounding them, Postpartum Depression is somewhat unique in its catalyst: while depression may be triggered by the death of a loved one, an intense loss, or another earth-shaking event, people are often conditioned to believe that the birth or adoption of a child should be greeted with nothing but joy and excitement. This can create feelings of shame and humiliation in parents experiencing Postpartum Depression symptoms, which can further limit an individual’s interest in or willingness to seek help from a mental health professional.

Experiencing symptoms of depression after the birth or adoption of a child can feel like a betrayal, and it can be frightening to seek help. Fortunately, therapists are trained to recognize the symptoms of PPD and are also trained to deliver evaluation and treatment without unjustly reporting their patients or making moral judgments about a patient’s symptoms and subsequent diagnosis. Therapists can recognize that Postpartum Depression is not the result of inadequate parenting, character flaws, or an inability to be a loving and caring caregiver, but is instead a mental disorder that has a large number of complex risk factors and underlying causes, including environmental triggers, genetic predispositions, and hormonal impacts.

Most Postpartum Depression treatment plans involve a layered approach to treatment, including medicine for PPD, therapy, lifestyle changes, and even support groups, all of which can significantly increase the likelihood of recovering from the disorder. Because Postpartum Depression strikes parents in what is usually only characterized as a joyous or exciting time, mustering the courage to ask for help is both courageous and difficult. After asking for help, parents will benefit from adhering to a careful treatment regimen that may include therapy, lifestyle changes, supplementation, and pharmaceutical medication.