Talking Through the Postpartum Blues

Talking Through the Postpartum Blues

A scientific study evaluating the effects of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) on postpartum depression suggests that it may be an effective way of alleviating symptoms and enhancing social adjustment in the months immediately following childbirth.

Postpartum depression is a major problem brought on as much by the many adjustments a woman must make after the birth of a child as by any chemical or hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy and childbirth. A new mother must redefine her relationships with all of those around her: her spouse or partner, co-workers, friends, and family. If she already has children, her relationship with them also changes drastically with the arrival of a new sibling. But postpartum depression doesn't only affect the mother; there is increasing evidence that it may also affect a child's cognitive and social development. So it is important for both mothers and their children to find effective ways of combating this particular type of depression.

Understandably, nursing mothers are reluctant to take antidepressants and with so many more women nursing these days, it becomes more important to find non-pharmaceutical ways of treating this form of depression.

Scientists at the University of Iowa recently conducted a study of IPT in the treatment of postpartum depression. A total of 120 women with fairly long-standing postpartum depression (several months' duration) were randomly divided into 2 groups. One group received 12 weeks of IPT; the other was put on a waiting list. IPT sessions were one hour in length and took place weekly. They focused on identifying interpersonal problems that contributed to the depression and finding ways to resolve them. All participants were interviewed using a number of scales for measuring adjustment, depression, and psychosocial functioning, and each participant completed self-reports about her symptoms at the outset of the study and every four weeks thereafter.

What the study revealed was that those women following the IPT treatment experienced improved relationships with other family members (aside from the new infant) and less overall depression compared to women receiving no treatment. This is a significant finding, given the importance of good mental health—to both new mothers and to their children. Authors of the study conclude that IPT is an effective treatment that can be recommended to new mothers "with confidence" and one that should be begun as soon as possible.


O'Hara MW, Stuart S, Gorman LL, Wenzel A. Efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for postpartum depression. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2000;57:1039-1045.

Review Date: January 2001
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

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