Ketamine injection after childbirth can reduce postpartum depression in new mothers by 75%

A new study administered ketamine to new parents to keep postpartum depression away.
A new study administered ketamine to new parents to keep postpartum depression away. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Rory Elliott Armstrong
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One low-dose injection of esketamine administered right after childbirth reduces major depressive episodes, according to a new study.


Depression among expectant mothers during and shortly after giving birth is emerging as a pressing global health issue. 

When it comes to treatment, medical professionals are actively exploring novel treatment approaches to address depressive symptoms in new parents, including the use of psychedelic drugs in one newly-published study.

Scientists in China and the United States unveiled a promising intervention: a single low-dose injection of esketamine administered immediately after childbirth appears to significantly reduce major depressive episodes in mothers who had prenatal depression.

The new study, published in the BMJ last week, sheds light on the potential of esketamine, a derivative of ketamine commonly used as an anaesthetic and in depression management, in alleviating perinatal depression.

As part of the study, scientists looked at 361 mothers with a median age of 32 and no prior medical history of depression.

Those found to be grappling with prenatal (before birth) depression received a sole low-dose injection of esketamine promptly following the delivery of their children.

This photo shows a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, July 25, 2018 in Chicago.
This photo shows a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, July 25, 2018 in Chicago.Teresa Crawford/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.

The blind, placebo-controlled study lasted around two years and took place across five hospitals in China. 

Researchers discovered that among participants with prenatal depressive symptoms, those who received esketamine were about 75 per cent less likely to experience major depressive episodes at the 42-day mark compared to their counterparts.

The participants were divided into two cohorts: one received esketamine, while the other received a placebo injection approximately 40 minutes post-delivery.

'Extraordinarily safe, effective and cheap'

Throughout the study period, participants underwent interviews at 18 to 30 hours post-childbirth, on day 7, and again on day 42.

By the end of the 42-day period, a mere 6.7 per cent of mothers who received esketamine had encountered a major depressive episode, in stark contrast to 25.4 per cent of those who received placebo injections.

Some suffered side effects of dizziness and double-vision, but these subsided within a day.

"A single dose of intravenous esketamine is extraordinarily safe, effective, and cheap for women at risk of worsening depression after childbirth," Dr Rupert McShane, an associate professor of psychiatry at Oxford University who was not involved in the study, told Euronews Health.

"The challenge for us in the UK is to find the funding for monitoring so that the benefit can be maximised and the risks brought to a minimum," he added.

What exactly is postnatal depression?

Postnatal depression affects one in 10 women after they give birth.

Those affected experience intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that usually begin two to three days after the birth and can last months.

Other symptoms include insomnia, loss of appetite, intense irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby.

In rare cases, an extreme disorder called post-partum psychosis may develop.


Existing treatment includes talking therapy or traditional antidepressants, but these can take weeks to take effect.

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