Postpartum depression affects between 6% and 12% of new mothers in the United States, and is one of the leading depression diagnoses among adult women. Because definitive causes for PPD are still being researched and therapies sought that are safe for nursing mothers, alternative methods for dealing with depression following childbirth have emerged.
Light therapy has been used extensively for sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with some success, and is now being recommended for mothers with mild to moderate postpartum depression as well. Clinicians recommend exposure to light in a light box for a duration of thirty to ninety minutes daily during the morning hours of the day. Eye protection is worn and the patient is instructed not to focus the eyes directly on the light but to keep the eyes open. Not only does the light therapy seem to have a positive effect on alleviating depression symptoms, but unlike some of the medications on the market for treating depression, it is safe for mothers who are breastfeeding their babies.
Mothers who reside in climates prone to extended periods of darkness, such as Alaska, experience higher rates of postpartum depression, leading researchers to believe in a link between reduced light and PPD specifically. Employing light therapy in such situations has proven highly effective in bringing relief to depression sufferers. Ongoing studies and practical application should fine tune this remedy for depression, widening the options for sufferers who cannot or who choose not to use chemical pharmaceutical treatments.