If pregnancy is an emotional roller coaster, then the postpartum period is an emotional tornado, often full of more mood swings, crying jags, and irritability. Not only does giving birth cause your body to go through some wild hormonal adjustments, but you also have a whole new human living in your house.
All of that upheaval can initially lead to feelings of sadness, stress, and anxiety rather than the joy and elation you were expecting. Many people experience these “baby blues” as a normal part of postpartum recovery, but they usually go away 1–2 weeks after delivery.
However, new moms still struggling beyond the 2-week milestone may have postpartum depression (PPD), which is characterized by more severe symptoms that last much longer than the baby blues.
Postpartum depression can linger for months or even years if left untreated — but you don’t have to deal with it in silence until it goes away.
Here’s everything you need to know about how long PPD lasts — and what you can do to feel better faster.
Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a form of clinical depression that begins after the birth of a baby. Common symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- excessive crying or fatigue
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- restlessness and insomnia
- anxiety and panic attacks
- feeling intensely overwhelmed, angry, hopeless, or shameful
No one knows for sure what causes PPD, but like any other kind of depression, it’s probably several different things.
The postpartum period is an especially vulnerable time during which many of the common causes of clinical depression, such as biological changes, extreme stress, and major life changes, all happen at once.
For example, the following may occur after giving birth:
- you don’t get as much sleep
- your body is coping with major hormone fluctuations
- you’re recovering from the physical event of giving birth, which may have included medical interventions or surgery
- you have new and challenging responsibilities
- you may be disappointed with how your labor and delivery went
- you can feel isolated, lonely, and confused
Postpartum depression: Not just for women with babies
It’s worth remembering that “postpartum” basically means going back to being not-pregnant. So those who have had a miscarriage or abortion can also experience many of the mental and physical effects of being in the postpartum period, including PPD.
What’s more, male partners can be diagnosed with it, too. Even though they may not experience the physical changes brought on by giving birth, they do experience many of the lifestyle ones. A
PPD can begin as soon as you give birth, but you probably won’t realize it right away since it’s considered normal to feel sad, exhausted, and generally “out of sorts” during the first few days after baby arrives. It may not be until after the typical baby blue time frame should have passed that you realize something more serious is going on.
The postpartum period generally includes the first 4–6 weeks after birth, and many cases of PPD begin during that time. But PPD can also develop during pregnancy and up to 1 year after giving birth, so don’t discount your feelings if they’re happening outside of the typical postpartum period.
Because PPD can appear anywhere from a couple of weeks to 12 months after birth, there’s no average length of time it lasts. A 2014 review of studies suggests that PPD symptoms improve over time, with many cases of depression resolving 3 to 6 months after they begin.
That said, in that same review, it was clear that plenty of women were still dealing with PPD symptoms well beyond the 6-month mark. Anywhere from 30%–50% percent met criteria for PPD 1 year after giving birth, while a little less than half of the women studied were still reporting depressive symptoms 3 years postpartum.
The timeline for PPD is different for everyone. If you have certain risk factors, you might find your PPD lasting longer even with treatment. The severity of your symptoms and how long you had symptoms before beginning treatment can affect how long your PPD lasts.
Risk factors include:
- a history of depression or other mental illness
- breastfeeding difficulties
- a complicated pregnancy or delivery
- a lack of support from your partner or family members and friends
- other major life changes occurring during the postpartum period, like a move or loss of employment
- a history of PPD after a previous pregnancy
There’s no formula to determine who will experience PPD and who won’t, or for how long it’ll last. But with the right treatment, especially when it’s received early, you can find relief even if you have one of these risk factors.
You already know that PPD is causing you some difficult symptoms, and unfortunately, it could also affect your relationships. This isn’t your fault. (Read that again, because we mean it.) That’s why it’s a good reason to get treatment and shorten the duration of your depression.
Asking for help is good for both you and your relationships, including those with:
- Your partner. If you’ve become withdrawn or isolated, your relationship with your partner could be affected. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), when a person has PPD, their partner becomes twice as likely to develop it, too.
- Your family and friends. Other loved ones may suspect that something is wrong or notice you aren’t acting like yourself, but they may not know how to help or communicate with you. This distance can cause increased feelings of loneliness for you.
- Your child(ren). PPD can affect your growing relationship with your baby. Aside from affecting the way you physically care for your baby, PPD can affect the mother-baby bonding process after birth. It may also cause damage to your existing relationships with older children.
Some researchers even believe that a mother’s PPD may have long-term effects on her child’s social and emotional development. A
If you’re not feeling better 2 weeks postpartum, get in touch with your doctor. While you’ll be screened for PPD at your 6-week postpartum appointment, you don’t have to wait that long. In fact, doing so can make it take longer for your PPD to get better.
After 2 weeks, if you’re still experiencing intense feelings, it’s probably not the “baby blues.” In some ways, that’s good news: It means you can do something about the way you feel. You don’t have to “wait it out.”
When you do ask for help, be as honest as possible. We know it’s difficult to talk about the negative emotions associated with new parenthood, and it can be scary to reveal just how much you’re struggling. However, the more open you are about your PPD, the better — and faster — your provider will be able to help you.
You’re doing great
Remember, you’re not to blame for your PPD. Your provider won’t think you’re a “bad” or weak parent. It takes strength to reach out, and asking for help is an act of love — for you and your family.
You can’t power through PPD on your own — you need medical and mental health treatment. Receiving it quickly means you’ll be able to continue loving and caring for your baby to the best of your ability.
There are several options for PPD treatment, and you may need to utilize more than one strategy. There are also lifestyle changes that may make recovery go faster. Don’t stop until you find a combination of treatments that works for you. Relief from PPD is possible with the right interventions.
- Antidepressants. Your provider may prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to treat your depression. There are several SSRIs available. Your doctor will work with you to find one that best treats your symptoms with the fewest side effects. Many SSRIs are compatible with breastfeeding, but make sure your provider knows if you’re nursing so they can choose the appropriate medication and dosage.
- Counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a frontline strategy for treating depression, including symptoms of PPD. If you need help locating a provider in your area, you can search for one here.
- Group therapy. It may be helpful for you to share your experiences with other parents who have had PPD. Finding a support group, either in person or online, can be a valuable lifeline. To locate a PPD support group in your area, try searching by state here.
Most cases of PPD last for several months. Depression affects your whole body — not just your brain — and it takes time to feel like yourself again. You can recover faster by getting help for your PPD as soon as possible.
We know it’s hard to reach out when you’re struggling, but try to communicate with your partner, a trusted family member or friend, or your healthcare provider if you think your depression is affecting your quality of life or your ability to care for your baby. The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll feel better.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now: