FDA approves drug for treating postpartum depression

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The first-ever drug created specifically to combat postpartum depression was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday.

Zulresso, created by Sage Therapeutics, is an IV drug administered "as a continuous infusion" over the course of 60 hours, or two and a half days, the agency announced in a news release.

In a company-funded study of new mothers with moderate or severe postpartum depression, reportedly half the women given Zulresso had depression end within two and a half days — about double the rate of those in a comparison group given dummy treatments.

Getting the "baby blues" after childbirth is common, according to the Mayo Clinic. After childbirth, "most" new mothers experience a range of symptoms, including mood swings, crying, trouble sleeping and irritability.

But some other mothers experience stronger, more severe emotions that are considered postpartum depression.

Excessive crying, overwhelming fatigue, difficulty bonding with the newborn child, fear of being an inadequate mother or total hopelessness are symptoms connected to postpartum depression that medical officials say can develop within the first few weeks following childbirth, but can start earlier or later.

It affects around 400,000 American women a year and can be treated with antidepressants, which can take six to eight weeks to work and don't help everyone, or with counseling.

"Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening. Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child," Dr. Tiffany Farchione, of the FDA's Division of Psychiatry Products, stated in the news release.

Farchione added that, "Postpartum depression can also interfere with the maternal-infant bond. This approval marks the first time a drug has been specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, providing an important new treatment option."

Zulresso's active ingredient, brexanolone, mimics a derivative of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone, levels of which can plunge after childbirth. Sage Chief Executive Dr. Jeff Jnas says the infusion helps restore normal levels and emotions.

Chicago mother, Carol Blocker, has made it her mission to coach new mothers through the side effects of postpartum.

Blocker personally knows how serious it can be. Eighteen years ago, her daughter Melanie Stokes jumped from the 12th story of a Chicago hotel to her death. Stokes had been suffering, despite treatment, with postpartum depression for months.

"We took the baby from her right away. Although she really didn't have too much interest in the baby. Her thought was to die," Blocker said.

Until now, postpartum depression has been treated with counseling and anti-depressants. The medication, however, can take months to take effect.

The new drug, Zulresso, can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000 for a single dose. Insurance companies will set the out-of-pocket costs.

Side effects include fainting and excessive sedation. The drug is expected to be available in June.

For the fifteen percent of new mothers who experience postpartum depression, it will be a lifesaver.

For local mothers suffering from postpartum depression, the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois provides free email and phone support. Reach the Alliance at www.PPDil.org or by calling 1-847 205-4455.