The hormones surging through your body. The milk leaking through your shirt. The sleep deprivation. There are so many physiological factors that make postpartum depression (PPD) different than other types of depression, but the treatments are still the same, and unfortunately, they’re slow.
It can take weeks before a person prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) starts to feel better, and for mothers feeling crushed under PPD, six weeks might as well be a century.
Luckily, a promising new drug could see mothers feeling better faster—like within 24 hours. The drug is called brexanolone, and it treats PPD by treating hormonal changes, specifically those related to allopregnanolone, a metabolite of progesterone.
Allopregnanolone has been called the “anti-anxiety” hormone, and studies have linked lower levels of allopregnanolone in pregnancy to an increased risk for PPD. Typically, women’s allopregnanolone levels are highest in the third trimester, but after you give birth the levels go down quick, and it’s believed that crash is what causes some women tosink into depression.
Brexanolone, which is administered intravenously, is a formulation of allopregnanolone, and trials of the drug have been extremely promising.
An initial proof-of-concept study led by perinatal psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody saw four women with severe PPD given an infusion of the drug over 60 hours. They all felt better in fewer than 24 hours.
“The first patient we infused was someone who was extremely depressed, had lost 20 pounds in a short period of time postpartum because she wasn’t eating at all, was very sad, didn’t want to interact with the baby — didn’t want to interact with anyone — and the family was extremely concerned,” Meltzer-Brody told The Huffington Post. “Twenty four hours after the infusion, she came out of her room, was smiling, ate her whole lunch, was talking to everyone. It was dramatic.”
Larger studies followed the first, and Phase three trials have been completed, but the results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, an important step in drug development.
Still, the maker of brexanolone, Sage Therapeutics Inc, has plans to submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this year.
It could still be years before doctors are prescribing brexanolone as a treatment for PPD, but the fact that scientists are working on this problem is exciting for moms and medical professionals.
One day, moms may not have to wait six weeks for their pills to kick in. A simple IV drip could be the key to writing brain chemistry and allowing women to enjoy new motherhood and bond with their babies.