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
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.
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