Ketamine for Postpartum Depression: Myth vs. Reality

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Postpartum depression is a very common mental health disorder. It’s the most common complication experienced during and after delivery, impacting between 10% and 15% of women.

This condition can have destructive effects on the mother, child, and entire family. The Mom may have thoughts of harming herself or her child due to postpartum depression.

Because of the severity and prevalence of postpartum depression, many clinicians understand the importance of providing immediate and effective treatment. Ketamine therapy has found some success in treating patients with postpartum depression.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that generally develops shortly after the birth of the child. It differs from the ‘baby blues,’ which are short-lasting mood changes accompanied by irritability. Contrastingly, postpartum depression includes severe mood swings, anxiety attacks, difficulty bonding with the newborn, and other symptoms. And unlike the ‘baby blues,’ which resolve within a couple of weeks, postpartum depression can last for months or years after birth.

Depressive symptoms commonly found in women experiencing this condition include:

  • Constant crying
  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or unworthiness
  • Extreme guilt or self-doubt
  • Insomnia or other sleeping conditions
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling no enjoyment in hobbies or activities

The standard treatment for postpartum depression is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressant medications. Unfortunately, SSRIs and other antidepressants don’t work for all patients experiencing depression. Ketamine may be an effective alternative to traditional drugs that can work where other treatments fail.

Some new mothers may have certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing postpartum depression. Risk factors include:

  • Having a previous diagnosis of depression before or throughout the pregnancy. Prenatal depression develops before the birth of the child.
  • Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
  • Pre-term delivery of the child

Preventing postpartum depression is highly important as the condition can have serious consequences for the physical and psychological health of the parents and the child. Ketamine treatment may be used to prevent and treat the symptoms of postpartum depression.

Ketamine Treatment for Postpartum Depression

Ketamine has traditionally been used as an anesthetic, but in recent years, it has also been used to treat treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine therapy works as the substance binds to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which blocks their ability to communicate with other parts of the brain. As an NMDA receptor antagonist, ketamine allows the brain to restore connections and forge new neural pathways.

Using ketamine for postpartum depression can be an ideal option for the patient since it has high success rates, can provide fast-acting symptom relief. For example, one study demonstrated that 70% of patients using ketamine to treat postpartum depression found symptom relief after only 1-2 ketamine treatments.

Another clinical trial evaluating the effect of ketamine on preventing postpartum depression after undergoing caesarian sections found that it could be effective at preventing postpartum depression when used in the induction of general anesthesia. Ketamine therapy has also been found to be more effective in women at high risk for postpartum depression than those at low risk. It is also thought that low-dose ketamine administered after childbirth can reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression.

Can Ketamine Treatment Harm the Baby?

Ketamine poses little to no risk to the baby, which makes it an ideal postpartum depression treatment. In addition, the majority of patients using ketamine found relief from depression symptoms with little or no side effects.

However, at this time, there is little research related to the safety of ketamine therapy while breastfeeding. Therefore, the World Health Organization does not recommend giving breast milk to a child while the mother is undergoing ketamine therapy. Instead, many healthcare providers recommend pumping extra breast milk before therapy to abstain from nursing for two days after treatment. During this time, the mother can ‘pump and dump’ the breastmilk and resume regular feedings on the third day.

Is Ketamine Right for Me?

Given the amount of research that supports using ketamine to treat postpartum depression successfully, it may be natural for women to consider this treatment if they experience postpartum depression.

However, some individuals with health conditions will want to avoid ketamine, including:

  • Those with uncontrolled high blood pressure.
  • Individuals with heart disease, heart failure, or heart abnormalities.
  • Women with untreated or uncontrolled thyroid disease, especially hyperthyroidism.
  • Those with current or past substance abuse problems.
  • People with bipolar disorder, especially during a manic phase.
  • Those with active delusions or hallucinations.
  • Patients who have previously had a bad reaction when taking ketamine.

Since every patient – and every pregnancy – is unique. It’s best to consult with your general practitioner, mental health specialist, and OB/GYN specialist before considering ketamine as a treatment option for postpartum depression. Seeking information and working with your clinicians is one of the best ways to ensure your postpartum depression is successfully treated, leaving you to enjoy this precious time with your new bundle of joy!

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