Postpartum Mood Disorder

By Beth Ricciuti, RN, BSN, IBCLC

I am a nursing Mom. I think I’m depressed. Can I take an antidepressant medication and continue nursing?

This is a question we hear at the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh. During the postpartum period, hormones can fluctuate rapidly. This can often cause weepiness and feelings of sadness in women- also referred to as “baby blues”. However, when the bad days start to outnumber the good days, the baby blues can turn a sharp corner into post partum depression – also known as postpartum mood disorder.

Women describe feeling anxious, having trouble sleeping, weepiness and difficulty bonding with their baby. Panic attacks, invasive thoughts and obsessive/compulsive behaviors are also signs of postpartum mood disorder. These feelings are not a character flaw or sign of weakness. They are often the cause of estrogen, progesterone and thyroid hormones being “off-kilter.” There are many different approaches to treating postpartum mood disorders.

The first step (always the hardest) is recognizing there is a problem. As a mother, you deserve to be in a better place mentally. Those precious early weeks with a newborn can be physically daunting and are sleep deprived – which can amplify depression. Talk to your partner/husband, family member or close friend for support and assistance. Discuss these feelings with your OB or PCP. Talk therapy with a mental health professional is very helpful for some women. Occasionally, health care providers may prescribe medication to treat depression.

Can I take an antidepressant medication when I’m breastfeeding?

It is important to inform your medical provider that you are also a breastfeeding mother. There are several medications available that are compatible with breastfeeding. Infants will receive some of the medication via your breast milk. Medical professionals always weigh the benefits of a medication with the risks. Various studies have shown that mothers treated for depression breastfeed longer than mothers that do not seek treatment. Research the medication prescribed. Information is available online through LactMed, a website that contains information on drugs and breastfeeding: http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htmwww.

The Duquesne University Academic Research Pharmaceutical Information Center can also answer questions about the safety of certain medications with breastfeeding. They can be reached at 412-396-4600.

You owe it to yourself, your baby and your family to get the help you need.