How to Treat Postpartum Depression Without Medication

How to Treat Postpartum Depression Without Medication

Published: January 3, 2023

Postpartum depression is a common but serious condition among new mothers that usually requires professional support. If untreated, it can cause women to feel low and hopeless and affect their ability to connect with their babies.

While medication can help women to recover, it doesn't work for everyone, and some women prefer not to take it. This blog explores some of the other treatment options available for postpartum depression, supporting women to manage symptoms and achieve lasting recovery.

If you're experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, it's important that you access the help you deserve. By speaking medical professional, you can open the door to receiving treatment and feeling better again.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is when women experience depression in the year after giving birth. Around 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression. If untreated, postpartum depression can significantly affect both mother and baby, impacting their daily life and their mental health in the future.

Postpartum depression is a type of perinatal depression, an episode of depression that occurs anytime from the beginning of pregnancy to a year after giving birth.

What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

Many of the symptoms of postpartum depression are the same as major depression symptoms. Women with postpartum depression usually start to experience symptoms during pregnancy or in the first six weeks after they have given birth.

Like major depression, postpartum depression can manifest very differently from one woman to another, and there is a wide range of symptoms that women may experience. Some common depressive symptoms include:

  • low mood
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness
  • inability to enjoy things
  • unexplained physical pains
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • slowed movements
  • difficulty concentrating
  • suicidal thoughts or ideations

Women may find that postpartum depression affects their ability to bond with their babies. They may:

  • feel like they lack an emotional connection with their child
  • not enjoy spending time with their child
  • feel hostile towards their child or partner

Unfortunately, a lack of awareness and misconceptions surrounding postpartum depression leads some women to feel ashamed of their feelings and hide them from others, preventing them from accessing the care they deserve. If you're experiencing any of these thoughts or feelings, remember that there is nothing wrong with you. Postpartum depression is a common condition that can happen to anyone and, with the right support, you can recover and feel better again.

"Baby Blues" and Depression

Sometimes, people explain away symptoms of depression as so-called baby blues. However, they are two very different experiences.

Baby blues is a short period of low mood that women can experience in the first 3-10 days after giving birth. At this time, it's normal to feel low and tearful. Giving birth is an emotionally and physically intense experience that can take time to recover from, especially when there are many new demands to manage and you haven't been getting enough sleep. Baby blues fade after the first couple of weeks.

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is a much longer and deeper depression. It normally begins in the first six weeks after giving birth, either gradually or suddenly. Unlike baby blues, women usually require professional support to manage and recover from the condition.

Treating Postpartum Depression

Treating Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can affect the present and future well-being of both mother and child. Women who experience postpartum depression are more likely to develop chronic depression in the following years. Without support, post partum depression can also affect the emotional and cognitive development of the child and put them at greater risk of mental illness later in life.

The good news is that extensive scientific research has discovered and developed several evidence-based treatment options and strategies that can improve symptoms of postpartum depression. These include:

  • psychotherapy
  • antidepressant medications
  • brain stimulation therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
  • self-care

Every woman is different, and no one treatment works for everyone. You may need to try multiple treatments, or combinations of treatment options, to find the best solution for you.

Postpartum Depression and Medication

Many women find that medication-assisted treatment can help them to manage symptoms of postpartum depression, especially in combination with psychotherapy. Doctors usually prescribe antidepressant medications to treat depression, including postpartum depression. They may offer you:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • other antidepressant medications

However, while medication can be effective for some women, they don't work for everyone. About 40-60% of women may not respond to antidepressants. Other pregnant and postpartum women prefer not to take antidepressant medication because of the potential side effects for themselves and their children.

What Are the Risks of Taking Antidepressants While Breastfeeding?

If you take antidepressant medication when breastfeeding, the antidepressants can be passed on to your baby in your breast milk. This means that the baby may experience some of the side effects of antidepressant medication. While research suggests that the concentration of antidepressant medication in an infant's blood is very low, some women prefer not to take the medications.

Moreover, there is limited research assessing the effects of medication on pregnant and post-partum women, especially for newer drugs. This means we cannot be sure of the effects and risks of medications for mother and child, especially in the long term.

That said, there are also benefits of taking antidepressant medication during this time. Women may find that medications help them to care properly for their baby and improve both of their well-being. If you're unsure about taking medications, it may help to talk things through again with a medical professional so you can make the right decision for yourself.

Treating Postpartum Depression Without Medication

For women who do not respond to or prefer not to take medications, there are several other treatment options available. Many women learn to manage symptoms and recover from postpartum depression without the need for medication. Here are a few of the treatment approaches you could try.

Talk Therapy

Research has found that psychological interventions like talk therapy are effective in treating postpartum depression, reducing depressive symptoms and the likelihood that depression will continue.

There are several different types of psychotherapy available. Some of the most common are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy

During talk therapy sessions, you work with a therapist to identify the causes of your depression and develop skills to manage symptoms.

Some therapies, like psychodynamic therapy, focus on your past, exploring issues like childhood attachment which may affect the way you view and respond to events today. Other therapies, such as CBT, focus on present concerns, identifying unhelpful thought and behavioral patterns and turning them into more positive ones. You may want to try one course of talk therapy or a combination of different options.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy

TMS therapy is an innovative treatment approach that uses gentle magnetic waves to stimulate certain brain areas, affecting mood and behavior. Women living with depression often have reduced or increased brain activity in some regions of nerve cells, impacting important functions such as emotion, appetite, sleep, and motivation. By stimulating these cells, TMS aims to cause lasting changes to these functions, leading to long-term improvements in symptoms.

Research has found that TMS has high success rates for treating depression, with over 50% of people responding to the treatment. While large-scale clinical trials specific to postpartum and pregnant women are lacking, studies show promising results. A 2020 study found that four out of six women receiving TMS therapy achieved remission according to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, the most used postpartum depression screening scale for identifying depressive symptoms in mothers.

TMS usually produces results quickly, within four weeks of beginning treatment. It can be a lifeline for women with severe postpartum depression who are looking for a quicker solution than psychotherapy.

Natural and Alternative Remedies

Natural and Alternative Remedies

Perinatal depression is a mental health condition, and it's not normally something you can treat and recover from by yourself. However, you may want to include some natural remedies as part of your treatment plan. Always speak with your doctor about any natural remedies or complementary and alternative medicine you are taking or plan to take in the postpartum period.

Vitamin D

Studies have found that women with postpartum depression are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency than other women. While the relationship is complicated, low vitamin D levels during pregnancy and after birth may make developing postpartum depression more likely.

For people living closer to the equator, it's possible to get enough vitamin D by spending a short time in the sun each day. If you're living further north or south, you could try taking vitamin D supplements or eating foods like cod liver oil and salmon that are rich in the vitamin. You can speak to a doctor about whether you're at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Some studies have found that eating fish containing omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risks of perinatal depression. While more research is needed into the connection, omega-3s are an important component of every cell in the body, particularly in the eye, brain, and sperm cells. Having an adequate intake of omega-3 is important for both your physical and mental health, including in the postpartum period.

Bright Light Therapy

Bright light therapy is most popular as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder, where people experience depression during the winter. Light therapy aims to replicate the positive benefits of sunlight on our mental health by using a special lamp to mimic natural light. It can be an appealing option for postpartum depression because it requires little time or money.


While self-care alone isn't usually enough to overcome post partum depression, it can support the recovery process alongside other options for treating depression. Especially in the postpartum period, it's important to take care of yourself and your body, get enough rest and do things for yourself.

Some self-care practices include:

  • eating healthy, balanced meals
  • spending time with friends
  • following regular sleeping schedules
  • doing activities you enjoy
  • spending time outside
  • exercising
  • yoga and meditation

While having a baby can make some of these tasks challenging, it's important to look out for yourself. You may want to ask for support from others around you to help you get more sleep and have time to rest and relax.

Postpartum Psychosis and Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum depression is the most known mental illness that affects postpartum women. However, many women also experience anxiety disorders in the year after birth. It's also common to experience postpartum depression and anxiety together.

Like postpartum depression, there are several treatment options available for postpartum anxiety, with or without medication. These include psychotherapy, self-care, and brain stimulation therapies. More rarely, women can experience postpartum psychosis in the weeks after birth. While postpartum psychosis can be an overwhelming and scary experience, with the right support, most people can fully recover.

If you think you may be experiencing postpartum anxiety, psychosis, or depressive symptoms, it's important to seek medical help. You deserve to feel better, and with the right support and care, you'll get there.

Pioneering Mental Health Treatment at GIA Chicago

GIA Chicago offers exceptional clinical programs for mental health conditions, utilizing the most up-to-date treatment modalities to help clients reach their recovery goals. We're leading experts in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy, an innovative treatment that has been a lifeline for people across the globe. Our treatment programs are fully individualized, combining various evidence-based options to meet each client's unique needs.

At GIA Chicago, we appreciate the role compassion and care have in mental health recovery. We stay by your side from beginning to end, listening to and responding to your needs and providing holistic support.

If you're living with postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis, or another mental health condition, reach out to us today. We're here for you.

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