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How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last After Childbirth?

It’s so expected that a newborn’s mommy will look frazzled and fried that a woman’s fatigue and sadness after childbirth are typically called the “baby blues.” But the baby blues — though temporary and very common — should not be taken lightly because the baby blues can be mistaken for the more severe condition called postpartum depression. Also known as PPD, this condition can last for years without treatment. New moms need to inform their healthcare providers about their baby blues to determine if, instead, they may have  PPD. An open dialog with their healthcare providers ensures they can get help as soon as possible. Find out what postpartum depression is, how long PPD can last, and what you can do to detect the signs and address the symptoms.

What is Postpartum Depression? 

Postpartum depression is a mental condition that may occur in women after they have a baby. Although the condition can begin soon after childbirth, it can also occur months after birth. Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression symptoms last longer than a week or two and can get in the way of daily activities and responsibilities.

When Does Postpartum Depression Typically Start? 

The postpartum period is considered the six weeks after childbirth. During this period, we’d all like to believe that bringing home a newborn is all about cuddles and giggles, but the truth is more complex. Postpartum depression can develop as early as the first two weeks after childbirth.  Or, it can come on later, typically within six months to a year post-delivery or even during pregnancy. 

 

How Long Do Postpartum Hormones Last? 

The baby blues are common, with 50 to 85 percent of women experiencing the feeling. However, the baby blues eventually fade away a few weeks after childbirth, as a baby’s mother adjusts to new routines and hormones begin to level off. Postpartum hormones last within a woman’s body from 6 weeks to a year, depending on her physiological status and whether she breastfeeds. 

 

How Postpartum Depression Can Affect Your Life 

In postpartum depression, the brain is affected, changing how a woman thinks, feels, and behaves. This condition can keep a mom from caring for her baby, taking care of herself, and leading to harmful behaviors. In no way is a woman responsible for experiencing postpartum depression symptoms, and she is not to blame for the condition.

Postpartum depression statistics state that about 1 in 7 women experience the condition after having a baby, estimating about 600,000 women annually. When women who had a stillbirth or miscarriage are added, the amount increases to 900,000. 

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are different from person to person and can change daily. A woman’s hormones are suddenly re-adjusting to a body without a baby, and the hormonal upheaval can cause intense emotions, especially sadness — hence the baby blues. Although, when the baby blues last longer than two weeks or sadness feels more like despair, a woman might be experiencing signs of postpartum depression instead. 

Symptoms usually begin within a few weeks or more after giving birth, but some women don’t have symptoms until many months later. Getting assessed and receiving treatment for postpartum depression is a necessity because, without treatment, the condition may worsen. 

 

Here are a few common symptoms of postpartum depression.

  • Feeling disconnected from the baby. 
  • Sudden mood changes.
  • Feeling extreme fatigue, but may also experience insomnia.
  • Feeling unexplainable aches and pains.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Feeling sadness and despair.
  • Crying often, perhaps without an identifiable reason.
  • Sleeping too much.
  • Difficulty concentrating and finishing tasks.
  • Difficulty making decisions, even easy ones.
  • Eating too much or too little.
  • Difficulty remembering things.
  • Feeling out of control or “not all there.”
  • Finding no interest in things that were once enjoyable.
  • Feeling numb or emotionless. 
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Wanting to escape from life.
  • Unable to complete basic tasks, such as grooming oneself or the baby. 
  • Feeling worthless, ashamed, or guilty.
  • Having persistent thoughts of being a bad mother.
  • Thinking other people will take or harm the baby. 
  • Having intrusive thoughts about harming oneself, the baby, or other people.

 

Can Babies Feel your Anger?

Babies can sense a parent’s emotions, so it’s important to address feelings of stress, anger, or sadness. But, of course, it’s easier said than done because every mom knows that the postpartum period can be a rough time to go through. 

Who is at Risk for Postpartum Depression?

According to the U.S government’s Office on Women’s Health, the following risk factors make it more likely that a woman will develop postpartum depression after childbirth. 

  • Having a family member with a history of bipolar disorder or depression.
  • History of depression. 
  • A lack of support from friends and family.
  • Having had a challenging pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Younger than 20.
  • Having a baby with special needs. 
  • Having twins or multiples.
  • Experiencing money or marital problems.
  • Misusing or abusing drugs or alcohol. 
  • The baby was an unplanned pregnancy. 

How is Postpartum Depression Diagnosed and Treated? 

Part of the procedure for diagnosing postpartum depression includes a thorough physical exam, including laboratory tests. A physical exam rules out any other diseases or disorders that may carry the same symptoms of postpartum depression, like a thyroid condition. A physician or therapist will also perform a depression screening, asking questions that help to determine an accurate diagnosis. 

Treatment for postpartum depression may differ from person to person. Most often, however, a combination of psychotherapy and medication are effective at treating PPD. Receiving treatment for postpartum depression is vital because it affects a woman’s ability to parent and quality of life. 

Psychotherapy for Postpartum Depression

Psychotherapy, also known as counseling or talk therapy, provides a safe and accepting space to share concerns about motherhood (and life in general). During psychotherapy, a person can talk about problems, develop solutions, and find ways to approach situations in a more positive light. 

Medications for Postpartum Depression 

A physician may recommend medications to help address the hormonal and chemical imbalance that causes postpartum depression. Typically, clinicians prescribe antidepressants to treat symptoms relating to depression. However, because many women are breastfeeding at this time, physicians are careful to prescribe medications that don’t affect breast milk. In the cases where medications may affect breastfeeding, physicians will work with women to find the most appropriate treatments. 

When to Seek Emergency Assistance for Postpartum Depression 

If a woman has thoughts of harming herself, the baby, or other people, it’s considered an emergency. If possible, the newborn’s mother can speak to her partner or family member about her thoughts. Then, her partner or family member should contact 911, or she can do so herself. 

When You Should Contact a Doctor for Postpartum Depression

For women going through postpartum depression, it might be challenging to identify the condition within themselves. Very often, it’s the people around them who notice the changes. Women need to have a supportive and caring environment and people who can encourage them to seek treatment. 

Women can also speak with their OBGYN or baby’s pediatrician about their concerns and ask for treatment. Obstetricians and pediatricians are familiar with postpartum depression and are readily available to address concerns. 

How Long Can Postpartum Depression Last? 

Current research into postpartum depression indicates that, in some cases, postpartum depression can last for years if left untreated. One study published in 2020 in the journal Pediatrics found that postpartum depression could be categorized into four trajectories, with most women showing low levels of depression over time. However, 5 percent of women with the condition exhibited high levels of postpartum depression for years after giving birth. Read our interview with the lead researcher on the study, Diane Putick, Ph.D., How long does postpartum depression last? A recent study.

In short, postpartum depression may last anywhere from four months after giving birth to years afterward. And without treatment, postpartum depression can worsen over time.

Finding the Right Provider for Postpartum Depression 

If you think you or a loved one has signs of postpartum depression and you have questions about finding the right provider for you, United States of Healthcare is happy to help. Download our free provider tool or check out our healthcare resources to determine which healthcare provider is right for you. 

And if you have an experience you’d like to share about treatment for postpartum depression and navigating the healthcare system, please share it with us. Let’s help each other navigate the healthcare system each step of the way. 

This story was brought to us by Joyce Griggs at United States of Healthcare, an organization dedicated to helping you navigate the US healthcare system –  what to ask for and how to ask for it – and find the health team that works best for you and your loved ones. Head over to United States of Healthcare for resources and to subscribe to the blog.

Written By

Joyce Griggs, founder of United States of Healthcare, is an industry leader in being your own health advocate. She believes that navigating your healthcare should not be MORE difficult than the condition itself. With over 20 years of experience in healthcare communications, Joyce knows how to help you get the information and expert support you need for your best possible health results. A speaker and sought-after expert, she brings tips and tools from healthcare insiders straight to your inbox. Do you want to know what to ask for and how to ask for it and find the health team that works best for you (or your loved ones)? Then, head over to United States of Healthcare for proven resources and to subscribe to the blog now.

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