There's Finally a Drug to Treat Postpartum Depression

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It’s mind-boggling that, despite the amount of drug development and research on depression and mental health, there has been little on postpartum depression. As of Tuesday, that’s no longer the case: STAT News reports that the Food and Drug Administration approved brexanolone, a drug developed by Massachusetts biotech company Sage Therapeutics under the brand name Zulresso, specifically designed to treat postpartum depression.

“This is a game-changing drug,” Dr. Marcela Almeida, a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told STAT News. “Current antidepressants can take weeks to be effective. [Zulresso] works within a couple of days, and women see significant improvements in three days. This is important because it’s a crucial period for a new mother’s relationship with her baby.”

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According to the American Psychological Association, up to one in seven women experience extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion after childbirth. While there is no single cause, according to the National Institute of Health, changes in hormone levels and lack of sleep after giving birth can trigger depression. Postpartum depression is the most common complication with childbirth, but often goes untreated.

Zulresso gives women suffering from moderate to severe postpartum depression another treatment option, but there are, of course, some downsides to the drug: at $34,000 for a single treatment, it’s very expensive and it can only be administered at a hospital, intravenously, continuously for 60 hours. Unlike traditional treatment for postpartum, which includes therapy and antidepressants, Zulresso works much faster (an average of 30 days). The Washington Post reports that the drug must be administered under “strict safety conditions” because of risks, including loss of consciousness and the effects of heavy sedation. Additional side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, and fainting. The FDA has issued a “black box” warning on the drug.

According to the FDA’s press release, the drug is currently only available through “a restricted program” that requires patients to enroll with participating health care providers at certified health care facilities.

Pregnant and lactating people have been overlooked in scientific research for decades, but things are slowly starting to change. Treatment options like Zulresso long overdue.

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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