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Medication For Postpartum Depression

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/8/2022

Postpartum depression is estimated to impact one out of every seven women. This particular depression specifically happens during or after pregnancy (known as perinatal depression).

Given the sensitive state of a mother and baby during pregnancy or right after birth, it’s natural to be concerned about depression symptoms and their effects on mother and child. You may also be considering what treatment options mean if you’re breastfeeding and what — if any — impact your medications may have on breastmilk. 

As you read along, just remember that postpartum and perinatal depression is a common experience, that you are not alone and there are different treatment options available. 

However, depressive symptoms during pregnancy or after birth should be taken seriously and be addressed. 

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is depression that occurs in pregnant or recently pregnant women and is actually onset from pregnancy or after birth. 

Although it's often referred to as postpartum, it doesn’t necessarily mean it only happens after a baby is born. 

Some women show symptoms of depression during pregnancy — known as perinatal depression — while other women might just show symptoms after birth, whether that's weeks after delivery or up to six months. This is known as postnatal depression. 

It is often referred to as peripartum depression to encompass both time periods that occur during pregnancy and postpartum.  

A common misconception is that postnatal depression is the baby blues. However, unlike what many women know as the baby blues (a feeling of being down after birth within the first two weeks) postpartum depression lasts for a longer period of time, affects daily tasks, is draining both emotionally and physically and is considered a mood disorder. 

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression shows up both physically and emotionally in pregnant women or women that have delivered their babies. 

Most women show several of the symptoms listed below, although which exact symptoms show up and how they evolve vary from person to person. 

Physical Symptoms 

  • Aches and pains 

  • Loss of appetite or overeating

  • Difficulty sleeping 

Emotional/Mental Symptoms

  • Feelings of anxiousness or hopelessness

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or general pessimism 

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Irritable 

  • Suicidal ideation

  • Fear of hurting the baby

  • Feelings of disconnection from the baby

  • Crying more often than usual 

  • Withdrawing from others 

If you’re concerned about perinatal depression, postpartum depression or are experiencing general signs of depression, please contact your healthcare provider to determine what the best plan of action is for your health. 

Postpartum depression affects both you and your baby, so it’s really important to seek medical attention if you’re concerned. 

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Risk Factors 

Potential risks for postpartum depression can be broad, meaning that any woman who is currently pregnant or recently gave birth is at risk. 

However, if you’re going through anything specifically stressful or have less support while going through such events (in addition to being pregnant or giving birth), you might be at a greater risk of postpartum depression. 

Sometimes, a family history of mood disorders, a history of mental health disorders or a history of depression may also increase your chances of experiencing postnatal depression. 

Is Medication an Effective Treatment Option for Postpartum Depression?

Left untreated, postpartum depression can be detrimental for both mother and child. It can impact the development of the child, and in severe cases for women, lead to suicidal ideation or suicide attempts. 

That’s why treating it as quickly as possible is so critical.

One treatment option is medication.  Medication has been found to be an effective option for women with postpartum depression. Specifically, for women experiencing moderate to severe cases, antidepressant medications are often recommended, given their effectiveness. 

What About Women Breastfeeding? 

A common concern you may have about any type of medication treatment, but specifically when using medication while experiencing postpartum depression, is if it will allow you to continue to breastfeed or if medication will affect your breast milk. 

While each medication is different and comes with specific usage and prescription guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), generally speaking, healthcare providers will recommend against breastfeeding if using antidepressant medications.

However, exceptions are sometimes made, depending on the type of medication you’re prescribed. That said, this is a conversation best had between you and your healthcare provider.

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What Are the Most Common Medications Used to Treat Postpartum Depression?

There are a variety of medications that have been found to be effective in the treatment of postpartum depression. Part of the consideration for treatment will depend on your medical history, the severity of the depression symptoms and whether or not you’re breastfeeding. 

Sertraline 

Sertraline, sold under the brand name Zoloft®, is a popular choice given that reports show low to undetectable levels within babies breastfeeding. 

Paroxetine 

Paroxetine, sold under the brand name Paxil®, is another common medication choice depending on patient history and if you’re currently breastfeeding.

Nortriptyline

Nortriptyline is considered a tricyclic antidepressant that works similarly to SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), and is sometimes also considered by healthcare professionals if more traditional antidepressant medications aren’t effective.

In one study, researchers found that nortriptyline performed similarly to sertraline for treating postpartum depression. 

Citalopram 

Citalopram, sold under the brand name Celexa®, also compared to other SSRI drugs, has been found to be one of the more effective medications for general depression. 

According to the FDA, citalopram was found in clinical studies to be present in breast milk, and did lead to mild adverse effects in breastfed infants. However, it’s not prohibited outright from being prescribed, but should be taken into consideration by a provider before prescribing citalopram to new mothers.

Bupropion 

Some women may have a history of not responding well to SSRIs or not responding well during treatment. In that case, bupropion may sometimes be used. 

However, like other antidepressants, bupropion has been shown in studies to enter breastmilk. While there are no definitive studies on whether or not it may affect an infant, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you are or are intending to breastfeed while taking bupropion.

What Are the Other Treatment Options That Are Used to Treat Postpartum Depression?

Aside from medication, a common treatment option for postpartum depression you may choose to try is therapy

Interpersonal therapy is a short-term effective therapy method that supports new mothers or women showing symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Interpersonal therapy helps patients recognize stressors, and then talk through role changes, relationships and more. 

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Caring for Yourself (Or Loved Ones) With Peripartum Depression 

Although not as common as the baby blues (a feeling of sadness after giving birth) peripartum depression (a more severe and longer-lasting depressive state) is a relatively common experience among pregnant women who’ve just given birth. 

However, just because it’s relatively common doesn’t mean it should be left untreated or not taken seriously. In fact not treating peripartum depression can impact the overall health and wellbeing of mothers and children alike.

Talk with a healthcare provider to determine the best method of treatment for you and your current situation, whether that's psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. 

Both psychotherapy and medication for depression have been found to be effective treatments for women, ultimately improving the health and wellbeing of mother and child as symptoms improve! 

If you are concerned about depressive symptoms, contact your healthcare provider, or seek treatment online

6 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Torres, F. (2020, Oct.) What is postpartum depression? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression
  2. Pearlstein, T., Howard, M., Salisbury, A., & Zlotnick, C. (2009). Postpartum depression. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 200(4), 357–364. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3918890/
  3. Centers for disease control and prevention. (2020, May). Depression among women. Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/
  4. Guille, C., Newman, R., Fryml, L. D., Lifton, C. K., & Epperson, C. N. (2013). Management of postpartum depression. Journal of midwifery & women's health, 58(6), 643–653. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4101986/
  5. Wisner KL, Hanusa BH, Perel JM, Peindl KS, Piontek CM, Sit DK, Findling RL, Moses-Kolko EL. Postpartum depression: a randomized trial of sertraline versus nortriptyline. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006 Aug;26(4):353-60. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16855451/
  6. Food and Drug Administration. (2022). CELEXA (citalopram) tablets, for oral use. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2022/020822s041lbl.pdf

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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