Depressed New Moms Might Benefit from This Rx

Postnatal depression treatment with antidepressants like SSRIs may ease symptoms in new mothers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Welcoming a new baby brings joy, but it can also bring a time of stress, worry and depression. New evidence suggests that medications might help new moms with depression.

A new study found that antidepressants were effective at treating postnatal depression in new mothers.

"Depression is common following childbirth," explained the authors of this new review, led by Louise M. Howard, MD, PhD, of King's College London. "Major depression occurs in approximately 5 percent of mothers at 3 months postpartum."

Dr. Howard and team wanted to explore whether antidepressants eased symptoms in these new moms. To do so, they looked at six past studies of postnatal depression published between 1997 and 2013. These studies took place in the US, UK and Israel. They involved nearly 600 women.

Several of the reviewed studies looked at selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — a common type of antidepressant. In three of these studies that compared SSRIs to a placebo (fake treatment), 54 percent of the 72 women on SSRIs (39 women) reported significant improvement in depression symptoms after six to eight weeks. The same was true for only 36 percent (27 women) of the 74 patients taking placebos. SSRI brand names include Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.

Overall, the evidence showed that antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, were effective at treating postnatal depression. Still, Dr. Howard and team called for larger studies on the topic.

"Our findings are important due to the limited research exploring the use of antidepressants to treat postnatal depression," said study author Emma Molyneaux, MSc, of King's College London, in a press release. "We would urge that treatment decisions during the postnatal period consider the potential benefits as well as risks of medication, as well as the risks of untreated depression for both mother and baby."

Dr. Howard shed light on what one of those potential risks might be for new mothers — using medications while breastfeeding.

"Some antidepressants are safer than others for mothers who are breastfeeding, so mothers seeking advice for depressive symptoms should ensure that their doctor knows if they are breastfeeding," Dr. Howard said in a press release.

This review was published online May 19 in JAMA.

Dr. Howard and team received grants from a number of groups, such as the Medical Research Council, Tommy’s baby charity and King's College.

Review Date: 
May 18, 2015
Last Updated:
May 19, 2015