New Meds May Provide Quick Relief From Postpartum Depression

By Beth Leipholtz 03/19/19

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the new medication some time in March.

pregnant woman

After giving birth to her son in 2017, Marie McCausland began experiencing feelings of exhaustion and guilt, and started suffering from panic attacks. 

At the urging of her husband, McCausland sought help for postpartum depression—something that 1 in 9 women in the United States are diagnosed with, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

McCausland was encouraged to seek help from a psychiatrist and antidepressants, which are the typical treatments for postpartum depression. However, the issue with these treatments is that they can take time to become effective. 

But soon, a faster form of treatment may be an option. Market Watch reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to approve a new medication called brexanolone sometime in March. Brexanolone was created by Sage Therapeutics and would be marketed as Zulresso.

If approved, it would become the first “drug therapy approved to specifically treat postpartum depression,” Market Watch reported. 

Brexanolone is administered via intravenous infusion over a 60-hour period, according to Market Watch, and typically takes effect within days instead of weeks. The medication works by increasing allopregnanolone, a progesterone metabolite that affects mood regulation and increases in the body when a woman is pregnant, but decreases quickly after birth. 

Market Watch reports that studies involving the medication have been promising. In one, researchers examined 246 women with varying degrees of postpartum depression and administered brexanolone or a placebo. To determine effectiveness, they used the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. 

Researchers found that after 60 hours, scores fell more in the group that had taken brexanolone, indicating that it had worked for some women.

“This is unlike anything we currently have available,” Samantha Meltzer-Brody, the lead author of the study, told Market Watch. “We now [have] an opportunity to treat women quickly, within days.”

Brexanolone may not be an obvious choice for everyone. Some women experienced side effects like dizziness, fatigue and headaches. 

Then, there’s the price. According to Sage Chief Business Officer Michael Cloonan, one treatment of brexanolone could run $20,000 to $35,000. Cloonan says the company is currently navigating coverage options. 

There’s also the time commitment, as women opting for the treatment can expect to spend two to three days in the hospital. 

“We think this is a novel mechanism that’s not been explored before,” Sage Chief Executive Jeff Jonas tells Market Watch. “Zulresso is, in many ways, just the tip of the spear.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.