While most women experience an emotional ride throughout pregnancy, some continue feeling emotional after their child is born. This can include moments of crying, mood swings, and irritability. As you continue to care for your newborn, you may ask yourself, “how long can postpartum depression last?”
It’s natural for most parents to feel depressed about 2 weeks after their baby is born. However, if that sadness continues for more than 2 weeks, then it’s considered postpartum depression (PPD).
The length of PPD varies from woman to woman, but can linger for months or even years if gone untreated. Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at PPD, how long it lasts, and what you can do to treat it.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression that begins after the birth of a baby. While researchers aren’t sure why new mothers experience PPD, it is understood that biological and lifestyle changes alongside extreme stress may be a factor. ¹
Some changes a woman may experience include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Disappointment in how labor and delivery went
- Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and confusion
- Hormonal fluctuations
- New responsibilities you weren’t prepared for
- Recovery from giving birth (may require surgery)
The term “postpartum” means returning to not being pregnant. With that in mind, women who’ve had an abortion or miscarriage may also experience symptoms of PPD. ²
Furthermore, fathers of newborns may also experience symptoms due to extreme lifestyle changes. In fact, one 2019 review suggests between 8% and 10% of new fathers will be diagnosed with PPD. ³
While it varies from person to person, PPD symptoms tend to occur daily and interfere with day-to-day activities. The most common include:
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal ideation
- Weight changes
If you or someone you love is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to speak with a medical professional as soon as possible. PPD symptoms can affects both the parent’s and child’s health.
Furthermore, if you or someone you love is showing signs of suicide, immediate intervention is crucial. For those in emergency situations, either call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. In other situations, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
While it’s clear that PPD occurs after someone is pregnant, it’s unclear the exact cause of PPD. Researchers believe it has to do with a few different factors:
- Genetics – If a close family member (i.e. parent, sibling) has struggled with PPD, you’re at an increased risk of the condition. ⁴
- Hormonal Changes – After pregnancy, the brain and body experience extreme changes that could lead to depression. ⁵
- Life Stressors – A new baby brings about a number of lifestyle changes, each of which can cause psychological toll on new parents. ⁶
- Previous Psychological Problems – If you struggled with depression (or another mental illness) prior to pregnancy, there’s an increased risk you’ll struggle with PPD too.
A diagnosis screening for PPD is usually made 2 to 6 months after childbirth. If you appear susceptible to PPD, you may receive the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) either before or after giving birth.
When Does Postpartum Depression Start?
Since you’re likely to feel exhausted for a few days after giving birth, it’s granted you may not realize PPD has begun. However, it can start the moment your baby arrives into the world.
Once you get home and some time passes, you’ll likely start to notice changes in your character – from mood swings to crying jags to irritability. If these feelings are persistent and interrupt daily life, you may be struggling with PPD.
Most women experience PPD for the first 4 to 6 weeks after birth. However, it may not develop until up to 1 year after giving birth.
How Long Can Postpartum Depression Last?
Since everyone experiences PPD for different periods of time, there is no consistent average for how long it lasts. A 2014 review found that most cases of PPD resolved between 3 to 6 months after symptoms began. ⁷
Still, between 30% to 50% of women continued to meet the criteria for PPD 1 year after giving birth. With some report symptoms continuing for up to 3 years.
The length of time for PPD varies from person to person. If you’re currently struggling with the condition, you have a greater chance at overcoming symptoms through treatment. The sooner PPD is treated, the better chance a person has.
Why You Might Experience Longer Postpartum Depression
As mentioned, some people with PPD will experience symptoms for years after giving birth. In some cases, this is even when treatment is given.
Symptoms severity is largely based on when you began treatment and whether or not you’re susceptible to the following risk factors: ⁸
- Complicated pregnancy or delivery
- Difficulties with breastfeeding
- History of depression and other mental disorders
- Lack of support from family, friends, or a partner
- Major life stresses occurring during postpartum period (i.e. loss of job, moving)
- PPD occurring during a previous pregnancy
Still, even with these risk factors, there is no clear signs as to who will and who won’t struggle with PPD.
How Does Postpartum Depression Affect Your Life?
As discussed, it’s common for PPD to disrupt your day-to-day life. You may find that you’re having difficulty completing even simple tasks, such as keeping the house clean or running errands. Due to these complications, you may also experience problems with work, schooling, or your relationships.
In fact, it’s likely that your PPD is affecting those around you as well. This isn’t your fault. You didn’t choose to struggle with this condition.
However, you may want to seek help for you and your relationships if your PPD affects the following:
- Significant Other – It may be difficult to maintain a relationship when you feel withdrawn and isolated. Some research points out that when one person has PPD, their partner is twice as likely to struggle with it too.
- Family and Friends – It’s likely there are others around you who notice your PPD, but may not know how to help. While family and friends can sometimes make symptoms worse, it’s important to seek out those who can help support you.
- Your Child(ren) – Beyond the fact that PPD may inhibit how you physically care for your child, it can also have psychological consequences. For example, you may have difficulty developing an emotional bond with your child. ⁹
One of the reasons it’s so important to treat PPD is because it can have long-lasting social and emotional effects on children – even after you’ve overcome the condition. One study found that children of parents with PPD were more likely to develop behavioral problems as children and depression as adolescents. ¹⁰
Postpartum Depression Treatment
PPD treatment is similar to traditional depression treatment in the sense that it involves medication and psychotherapy. There is no “one-size-fits-all” technique. Therefore, you may need to experiment around with different medication, counseling, and lifestyle changes before finding the right treatment for you.
The most common medication for PPD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These antidepressants can’t help relieve symptoms for a short period of time and are often compatible with breastfeeding. However, it’s important to discuss nursing over with your doctor to ensure you’re receiving the right medication and dosage. ¹¹
In terms of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common in treating PPD. This is a form of talk therapy that helps you understand and better manage your problems. ¹²
Finally, you may also benefit from group therapies where you can talk to other parents struggling with PPD.
Some parents choose to seek out all-natural medicines for PPD. While you may find some relief through these methods, it’s important to consult a doctor before taking over-the-counter medications – especially if you’re breastfeeding.
If you’ve struggled with depressive symptoms for more than 2 weeks since your child was born, you’re likely struggling with PPD. Upon a doctor’s diagnosis, there is no telling how long it can last. But most women find relief within 3 to 6 months symptom onset.
The best way to overcome PPD is through treatment. If you continue to struggle, it can help to communicate with your partner and trusted family members or friends in order to develop a support system.
Still have questions about how long postpartum depression lasts?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ MedlinePlus: Postpartum Depression
² Journal of Women’s Health: Increased Risk for Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders Among Women with Past Pregnancy Loss
³ Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience: Postpartum Depression in Men
⁴ World Journal of Psychiatry: Postpartum depression: A systematic review of the genetics involved
⁵ Psychosomatics: Hormonal changes in the postpartum and implications for postpartum depression
⁶ Maternal and Child Health Journal: The Effect of Stressful Life Events on Postpartum Depression: Findings from the 2009–2011 Mississippi Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System
⁷ Harvard Review of Psychiatry: The Course of Postpartum Depression: A Review of Longitudinal Studies
⁸ Journal of Education and Health Promotion: Postpartum depression risk factors: A narrative review
⁹ Women’s Health: Consequences of maternal postpartum depression: A systematic review of maternal and infant outcomes
¹⁰ JAMA Psychiatry: Association of Persistent and Severe Postnatal Depression With Child Outcomes
¹¹ Journal of Affective Disorders: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for post-partum depression (PPD): a systematic review of randomized clinical trials
¹² PLOS ONE: Is cognitive behavioral therapy a better choice for women with postnatal depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis