TMS for Postpartum Depression

Can TMS Help Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a common mental health disorder that many new mothers face. Like all forms of depression, postpartum depression can interfere with a woman’s ability to complete everyday tasks and care for her baby. Fortunately, there are a variety of effective treatments for postpartum depression, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects women while they are pregnant, and after giving birth. One of the well-known forms of postpartum depression is called the “baby blues,” which are the natural feelings of exhaustion and anxiety that often occur immediately after giving birth. However, the “baby blues” are usually short-lived, lasting only a few weeks after delivery.

Moderate to severe postpartum depression occurs for a much longer period of time—anywhere from a few months to a year after giving birth. The symptoms of postpartum depression are also much more debilitating than symptoms of the “baby blues.” Some of the common symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Crying for no reason
  • Feeling overly anxious
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Doubting your ability to care for your baby
  • Trouble bonding with your baby

Of course, every woman will experience postpartum depression differently. Some might be more prone to crying spells, extreme sadness, and trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Other women might be more irritable, anxious, and have trouble sleeping. Due to postpartum depression beginning during the pregnancy, it’s important for expecting mothers to monitor their mental health and recognize the early warning signs of the condition.

The Biological Factors Behind Postpartum Depression

Doctors haven’t found an exact cause for postpartum depression, and it’s thought to be a result of both physical and emotional factors. Specifically, postpartum depression can be caused by significant changes in the brain that impact mental health.

During pregnancy, the levels of estrogen and progesterone quickly rise in a woman’s body. The increased levels of estrogen are essential for supporting the baby’s development, transferring nutrients, and helping the fetus develop and mature. After giving birth, the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop rapidly. It’s believed that the drastic chemical rebalance creates changes in the brain and can lead to mood swings.

Postpartum Depression and the Brain

When a woman develops postpartum depression, certain areas of the brain are affected—the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Researchers believe that increased levels of cortisol throughout the body are what cause brain abnormalities that contribute to postpartum depression. 

The hypothalamus is responsible for making cortisol, which is a chemical that gets released during stressful events, including depressive episodes. In women with postpartum depression, the increased levels of cortisol in the body over a long period of time can cause neurons in the hippocampus to shrink, leading to memory problems.

The very front region of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for managing emotions, creating memories and making decisions. When a woman’s body produces too much cortisol, the prefrontal cortex can also shrink and begins to function abnormally.

The last piece of this puzzle is the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for triggering emotional responses, like happiness and fear. Women with postpartum depression tend to have enlarged amygdalas, due to the high levels of cortisol. An enlarged amygdala can cause chemical abnormalities in other parts of the brain, leading to sleep issues and brain activity problems.

How TMS Can Help with Postpartum Depression

Roughly 80% of mothers who seek treatment for postpartum depression recover successfully using a combination of therapies. Today, there are a variety of effective treatments for postpartum depression, including medication and talk therapy. In addition, many women are exploring alternative therapies that target brain changes specifically, like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

TMS is a relatively new, FDA-approved treatment for moderate to severe depression. TMS uses magnetic waves to stimulate areas of the brain that are thought to be dormant in people with depression. It also targets parts of the brain that control mood, like the prefrontal cortex. TMS is particularly useful in women who have postpartum depression that has not responded well to other forms of treatment. 

Essentially, TMS wakes up those dormant regions of the brain and helps them start to function normally again. People who undergo TMS treatments often report feeling about 80% back to normal after four or five weeks, and at six weeks, many people report that the majority of their depressive symptoms have disappeared completely.

What to Expect During a TMS Session

TMS is a non-invasive procedure that takes about 18 minutes per session and doesn’t require anesthesia. During a session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the forehead, and small, electromagnetic pulses are generated through the coil for about 30 seconds at a time. The pulses pass through the skull and stimulate the mood-regulating areas of the brain.

Treatments are done in a comfortable setting and are administered by a professional technician. A medical doctor will also oversee your treatment plan and evaluate your results. The side effects of TMS are usually minimal—about 1 in 3 patients experience scalp sensations, and some report having a slight headache after the session. If the treatment becomes painful, the technician can reduce the magnetic field strength to reduce discomfort.

If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, we encourage you to explore the TMS treatment services we provide at Pulse. Before pursuing treatment, we recommend speaking to your doctor first to learn if TMS is right for you. However, know that TMS is safe for most women who are pregnant and for new mothers who are breastfeeding. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with our psychiatrist.