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Treatment options for postpartum depression

Treatment must be geared to the severity of the mother’s depression, her past history with mental illness, the amount of familial and social support she has, and her treatment preferences.

Among the treatments available:

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Psychotherapy: Roughly 50 to 60 percent of women see a reduction in their depression symptoms with psychotherapy.

Antidepressant medication: Medication is an alternative if therapy is not effective or feasible. Medication risks must be balanced against the risks of depression. Again, 50 to 60 percent of women are helped by medication. Research suggests that no detectable amounts of sertraline (the generic name for Zoloft) and paroxetine (often sold as Paxil) are passed to the baby through breast milk.

Exercise: Research is being done to assess the effectiveness of exercise, shown to help with depression at other times of life, in treating postpartum depression.

Bright morning light therapy: Used to treat seasonal affective disorder, light therapy has been shown to be effective against depression during pregnancy and is now being studied in postpartum depression.

Hormonal therapy: Studies
in the mid-’90s suggested that the hormone estradiol offered promise against postpartum depression. More research is underway.

SOURCE: Dr. Katherine Wisner, Northwestern University

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