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New Drug for Postpartum Depression: What to Know

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first pill to treat severe postpartum depression. Doctors could begin prescribing the drug, zuranolone (Zurzuvae), as soon as this year.

The medication, which is taken daily for two weeks, can begin to work within three days. This could have a significant impact for new mothers during a vulnerable period when it is crucial for them to bond with their infants, said Eynav Accortt, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of the Reproductive Psychology Program at Cedars-Sinai.

Mood swings, crying spells, exhaustion and anxiety are common symptoms of the “baby blues” that mothers may experience in the first few weeks after giving birth. But when those feelings linger longer than two weeks and interfere with daily tasks, it can be a sign of postpartum depression. This can affect a mother’s relationship with her infant, older children and spouse and can interfere with her ability to lead a healthy life.

Although the development of the pill marks important progress, Accortt cautioned that additional studies are needed to prove the safety of the medication for women who are breastfeeding or pregnant and to examine its long-term benefits for mothers.

Ultimately, she added, more efforts must be made to improve racial disparities in maternal mental health. Women of color are less likely to be screened, identified and provided any treatment for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

“It’s an incredible achievement to have a safe, effective, fast-acting pill in our toolkit to treat severe postpartum depression,” Accortt said. “But we need to continue addressing social determinants of health. A pill won’t solve our systemic problems.”

Headshot for Eynav E. Accortt, PhD

Eynav E. Accortt, PhD

Clinical Psychology

Eynav E. Accortt, PhD

Clinical Psychology
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Postpartum depression facts

  • 1 in 5 women who give birth experience postpartum depression or anxiety
  • Risk factors for postpartum depression include:
    • Personal or family history of depression
    • Being Black or Latina
    • Experiencing medical complications before or after giving birth
    • Having a baby in the NICU
  • Fathers and adoptive parents can also experience postpartum depression

Here, Accortt shares five more things you should know about postpartum depression.

A woman with postpartum depression doesn't always look depressed

Mothers with postpartum depression often say they’re “fine” because they don’t want to worry anyone or be judged. They may act strong for others and hope things will get better on their own.

Common concerns can become obsessive and scary thoughts

For a mom with postpartum depression, a regular thought may become obsessive. This can be part of the anxiety that accompanies the disorder. A question like, “Am I bathing the baby properly?” can develop into a scary thought like, “What if I let go and the baby drowns?”

Some depressed mothers who develop these obsessive thoughts may also think of hurting their child. A mother may hesitate to share her fears because she’s worried someone may take her baby away.

The baby may not be the cause of sleep problems

Newborns notoriously wake up hungry every couple of hours, interfering with their parents’ sleep. But anxious thoughts may also prevent someone with postpartum depression from sleeping. The cycle may feed on itself and lead to more negative feelings.

Medication isn't the only answer

Medications like antidepressants can help some women with postpartum depression. However, mothers often can benefit from talk therapy—such as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy—without additional treatment.

What can you do to help?

Accortt cautions against dismissing a woman’s symptoms as a routine aspect of adjusting to motherhood.

Simply asking how a new mom is doing can prevent her from feeling singled out, help get her feelings out in the open, and encourage her to seek help by talking to her OB-GYN, primary care doctor or mental health professional.