For most new mothers, life with a newborn is a sleeplessly wonderful thing. But for one in nine women in the U.S. suffering from postpartum depression, those months of baby bliss can be anything but.
Postpartum depression is more than just a case of the “baby blues.” Symptoms often include an intense sadness, depressed mood, difficulty bonding with your baby, crippling anxiety and anger, fear that you’re not a good mother, and thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, among other things.
For years, doctors and medical professionals have been treating postpartum depression with the same drugs used to treat depression symptoms among the general public. But postpartum depression is different. It’s often triggered or caused by hormonal changes that women experience after pregnancy — something that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can’t specifically target.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved Zulresso, the first ever drug specifically developed to treat postpartum depression.
Zulresso (also known as Brexanolone) is a synthetic version of the hormone allopregnanolone, which derives from progesterone, a hormone that usually increases throughout a woman’s pregnancy, then often plummets after giving birth. The rapid change in progesterone levels is what researchers believe to be an explanation for why women suffer from postpartum depression.
“It’s a very very targeted therapy, a very unique drug for this particular setting,” says Dr. Natalie Azar, a Medical Correspondent for NBC News.
The newly approved drug is not a pill, but a 60-hour-long intravenous (IV) infusion performed at a hospital. And it carries a hefty price tag, costing patients as much as $20,000 to $35,000 per treatment.
But clinical trials for the drug were promising—both in the number of women it helped, but more incredibly, the near-instantaneous relief that has been reported.
Azar says the drug worked “very quickly,” in most cases, “within hours to days.”
Stephanie Hathaway, a 33-year-old mother of two who participated in a brexanolone trial as a patient, said she experienced immediate results from the medication.
“I woke up from a nap, and the thoughts were gone. And they never came back,” she told NBC News. “And then hour after hour, I got my energy back. I got my appetite back. I was eating because I was actually hungry, not because people were making me eat.”
According to Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the academic principal investigator in the brexanolone trials, the newly approved drug is “a step in understanding how we treat depression more broadly.”
“Being able to treat people quickly — within days— is unlike anything we’ve ever been able to do before,” she says. “We have had the same treatments for depression for 30 years. There’s an enormous need for new, novel ways to treat depression, and to treat it quickly.”
Sage Therapeutics—the parent company of Zulresso—anticipates the drug will be available for use under prescription and strict medical supervision as early as June.