If pregnancy is an emotional roller coaster, then the postpartum period is an emotional tornado, often full of mood swings, crying jags, and irritability. Not only does giving birth cause your body to go through some major 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 typical part of postpartum recovery, but they usually go away 1 to 2 weeks after delivery.
However, new parents 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.
PPD 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.
PPD is a form of clinical depression that begins after the birth of a baby.
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 susceptible 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 as before.
- 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 might be disappointed with how your labor and delivery went.
- You might feel isolated, lonely, and confused.
Postpartum depression: Not just for parents 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, non-birthing partners can received a PPD diagnosis, too. Even though they may not experience the physical changes brought on by giving birth, they do experience many of the lifestyle ones.
A 2019 review suggests about
For PPD to be diagnosed, symptoms are typically present almost every day and tend to disrupt daily routines. Some of these symptoms include:
- depressed mood
- loss of interest in things you used to be interested in
- low self-esteem
- difficulty concentrating
- a marked change in weight
- thoughts of suicide
These symptoms may lead to difficulty with breastfeeding or chestfeeding and bonding with baby.
If you feel as though you or someone you know could be experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. PPD is a serious medical condition.
The exact cause of PPD is currently unknown. However, it’s thought that a combination of factors may play a role in its development. These factors include:
- previous psychological issues
- life stressors that come with a new baby
Dysregulation of reproductive hormones right after childbirth remains one of the key reasons many doctors believe PPD occurs in some individuals.
Screening for PPD can usually be done 2 to 6 months after childbirth, according to
Your doctor will likely ask you about your current mental and physical health, as well as any medications you may be taking. They may also ask you about your history with other mental health concerns.
They may also use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), a questionnaire that helps your doctor identify your risk for developing PPD.
If you are having strong feelings of sadness, thoughts of suicide, or finding it difficult to take care of your baby, it’s essential that you talk with a healthcare professional as soon as you can — even if it’s earlier than the typically recommended 2 to 6 months.
If you need immediate support, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
PPD can begin as soon as you give birth, but you probably won’t realize it right away since it’s expected that you might 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 blues timeframe has passed that you realize something more serious is going on.
The postpartum period generally includes the first 4 to 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 participants were still dealing with PPD symptoms well beyond the 6-month mark.
Anywhere from 30 to 50 percent met criteria for PPD 1 year after giving birth, while a little less than half of the people 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 health condition
- breastfeeding or chestfeeding 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 way you bond with your baby after birth. It may also cause damage to your existing relationships with older children.
Some researchers even believe that PPD may have long-term effects on a child’s social and emotional development. A
If it’s been 2 weeks postpartum and you’re still experiencing intense feelings of sadness, it’s probably not the baby blues. But this doesn’t have to be bad news: You can absolutely do something about the way you feel. You don’t have to wait it out.
When you do decide to ask for help, be as honest as possible. It can be difficult to talk about the negative emotions associated with new parenthood, and it can be scary to reveal just how much of a hard time you’re having.
However, the more open you are about your PPD, the better — and faster — a healthcare professional will be able to help you.
You’re doing great
Remember, you’re not to blame for your PPD. Your doctor 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.
Don’t feel as though you need to power through PPD on your own. Receiving help 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.
Here are some options:
- Antidepressants. Your doctor 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 or chestfeeding, but make sure your provider knows if you’re nursing so they can choose the appropriate medication and dosage.
- Counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy 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.
PPD can affect anyone who has just had a baby — and even the non-birthing parent. It does not mean you’ve done or are doing something wrong.
If it’s been more than 2 weeks since your baby was born and you are dealing with feelings of sadness and fatigue, and are having difficulty bonding with your baby — it’s possible you may be dealing with PPD.
Most cases of PPD can 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.
It can feel hard to reach out when you’re struggling, but try to communicate with your partner, a trusted family member or friend, or your healthcare professional 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:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number or visit an emergency room.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.