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Treatment of Postpartum Depression, Part 2: A Critical Review of Nonbiological Interventions

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65(9):1252-1265

Background: While postpartum depression is a common mental condition with significant burden, it often remains undiagnosed and untreated. The objective of this article is to critically review the literature to determine the current state of scientific knowledge related to the treatment of postpartum depression from a nonbiological perspective.

Data Sources: Databases searched for this review included Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, EMBASE, ProQuest, the Cochrane Library, and the WHO Reproductive Health Library from 1966 to 2003. The search terms used were postpartum/postnatal depression and randomized controlled/clinical trials. Published peer-reviewed articles in English from 1990 to 2003 were included in the review, although select earlier studies were also included based on good methodological quality and/or the absence of more recent work.

Method: The criteria used to evaluate the interventions were based on the standardized methodology developed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.

Results: Twenty-one studies that met inclusion criteria were examined. These studies included interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, peer and partner support, nondirective counseling, relaxation/massage therapy, infant sleep interventions, infant-mother relationship therapy, and maternal exercise. Although some of these interventions have been better studied for depression unrelated to childbirth, methodological limitations render their efficacy equivocal for postpartum depression.

Conclusions: Definite conclusions cannot be reached about the relative effectiveness of most of the nonbiological treatment approaches due to the lack of well-designed investigations. Randomized controlled trials are needed to compare different treatment modalities, examine the effectiveness of individual treatment components, and determine which treatments are most useful for women with different risk factors or clinical presentations of postpartum depression.