rTMS: An effective pill-free treatment for postnatal depression?

It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit off after pregnancy but if it’s more than just the baby blues, it is essential you get help.

Until recently anti-depressants were the only option for many women but there is now a pill-free alternative, rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).

At least one in ten new mums will experience Postnatal Depression (PND) in the first year after birth. It can develop gradually or come on very suddenly and may be relatively mild or very severe.

rTMS is a new safe and painless treatment, which can be given instead of tablets. A magnetic coil is placed on the head to deliver short magnetic pulses to specific brain regions, which are believed to regulate mood and emotion.

It is already a very well regarded treatment in North America and is now available in the UK.


Anti-depressants vs the pill-free alternative

Antidepressant tablets work in some cases, but breastfeeding mothers have understandable anxieties about taking them, as these drugs may sometimes reach the baby through the mother’s milk.

rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), meanwhile, is safe and painless for mother and baby.  The treatment works with your body’s natural processes by simply increasing the number and frequency of such transmissions. It uses magnetic energy to stimulate an area of the brain that regulates mood.

As such, it can selectively alter activity in concentrated areas of the brain, bringing about desired effects that have been shown to be helpful in treating a variety of mental health problems.

Research has shown that a large proportion of patients who were unresponsive to antidepressant medication experience a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms when treated with rTMS – while 1 in 3 of these patients completely recover.


How does rTMS work?

rTMS influences electrical brain activity through a pulsed magnetic field. This magnetic field is created by passing quick current pulses through a coil of wire.

This coil of wire is encased in plastic and placed close to a client’s scalp in order for the magnetic field to be focused on particular areas of the brain.

The magnetic field can safely penetrate the scalp and scull without pain, to create a current in targeted brain cells. Because this stimulation is given at regular intervals it is referred to as repetitive TMS, or rTMS.

What is Postnatal Depression and how do I know if I have it?

Doctors attribute the baby blues to fluctuating hormone levels following birth. And while these feelings might be upsetting, they don’t last long – usually only a matter of days.

If you have Postnatal Depression, there are an array of symptoms you might encounter. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Feeling lethargic and tired, or even somewhat numb
  • Being disinterested in activities and in the outside world, or feeling very down
  • Thinking that everything is bleak and that there’s no hope
  • Having a sense of guilt about not coping well or that you don’t ‘love the baby enough’
  • Being irritable, losing your appetite, or feeling constantly hungry but being unable to eat
  • Feeling indifferent or hostile to your baby
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach cramps and blurry vision
  • Morbid or violent thoughts can be very scary, and you might be ambivalent to talk to anyone for fear that they will think you can’t look after your baby. At such a difficult time, it’s really important to remember that such thoughts don’t actually mean you are going to harm yourself or your little one.

PND can develop regardless of a woman’s circumstances and there is no one reason or cause. Instead, there are a variety of different possible triggers. These include: shock at being a new mother, change in relationships, lack of support, difficult labour, dramatic hormonal changes, diet, and personal experiences, among others.

Be kind to yourself 

Whatever treatment route you are taking, remember to look after yourself. Exercise and get enough rest, and seek the appropriate care. You can and will beat this. After all, you had a baby didn’t you?

Not many things are more challenging than that.

Dr Rafael Euba is Consultant Psychiatrist & rTMS Specialist at The London Psychiatry Centre. Dr Euba will be discussing depression during and after pregnancy in a seminar at the Private Pregnancy UK Show at the Royal Institution, London. privatepregnancy.co.uk


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