Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
How Long Can Postpartum Depression Last?
Published Nov 10th, 2021 & updated on Nov 4th, 2021
Pregnancy, birth, and the first months of a newborn’s life can bring about a range of emotions for new parents, including happiness, grief, and sometimes overwhelm. Alllllll of these emotions are normal. But because it’s “supposed” to be a delightful experience, parents may feel compelled to be happy, even if they’re struggling with their new reality.
It’s a journey that nobody can ever be fully prepared for, and that’s all right because being a parent isn’t about being flawless. It’s about learning as you go. Being responsible for a new human being can and will create changes in your life — and bring with it mood swings, fluctuations in sleeping patterns, several diaper changes, irritability and more.
There might also be a sensation of fear, which will sometimes be accompanied by intrusive thoughts like:
I don’t know what to do anymore.
Why can’t I remember that?
I’m incredibly unwell, but my baby needs me.
I’m overwhelmed and I can’t stop these tears.
I feel so helpless. Why won’t this feeling go away?
These emotions can frequently lead to despair, tension, worry, and a sense of not being or doing enough. Some of these feelings are often referred to as the baby blues, which are natural and can last between one to two weeks for new parents.
Baby Blues, What Are They?
Having a child may be an exciting time for parents, but it is also very common for new mothers to go through a period of “baby blues.” Even though they’re short-term, baby blues can be overwhelming! They’re brought on by all the changes that come with having a new baby, such as worry, loneliness, anxiety, and stress.
Here are a few of the signs you might notice if you’re experiencing baby blues:
- Difficulties focusing or making decisions
- Mood fluctuations of irritability or anxiety
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Severing relationships with friends or relatives
- Feeling emotionally drained
Baby blues can begin when the baby is 2 to 3 days old and typically only last a few weeks. If these emotions persist for much longer than that, they can be classified as a more severe underlying medical condition known as postpartum depression. This is when you’ll want to reach out to your doctor!
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression, also known as (PPD) is a kind of clinical depression that develops after giving birth. Stress and physiological changes may make you feel like so much is happening at once and you can’t catch a break during this highly vulnerable phase. With PPD, most of the baby blues symptoms persist for much longer than a few weeks.
The first joke you hear when you tell someone you’re a new parent is “HA, have fun never sleeping again.” It might be funny when you’re years down the road and looking back but definitellyyyy not while you’re going through it. New moms often get so little sleep that they may feel like they’re constantly in a fog. That feeling gets incredibly overwhelming over time with postpartum depression.
Some moms tell themselves that they just have to push through it without help, especially if they’re the kind to have overcome adversities in the past. They might think that they’ve done hard things before and they can do this too. And it’s not a bad thing to believe in your own resiliency! But it does mean that you may choose to suffer in silence and not communicate what you’re going through with your partner or your loved ones. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
Unlike the baby blues, which endure for a shorter time, postpartum depression requires assistance from a physician or a licenced psychotherapist. Here are a few other signs to look for.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, it might be a good idea to get in touch with your doctor and or mental health therapist. The following are some of the most prevalent symptoms:
- Having little or no drive or ambition
- Disinterest in interacting with the infant, family, and/ or friends
- Appetite changes, such as undereating or overeating
- Having strong feelings of wanting to harm the baby or oneself
- Inability to make decisions, difficulty with memory and concentrating
- Alteration in sleep pattern by oversleeping or undersleeping
- Extreme irritation, impatience, hostility, anxiety
- Feeling insignificant or like a terrible parent
- Extensive sadness and uncontrolled sobbing
- Inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities
- Feeling disinterested in and disconnected from the baby, or as if your kid is someone else’s baby
- Intense pains, aches, headaches, or gastrointestinal problems regularly
How Common Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is highly prevalent, affecting up to 15 percent of women. In addition, one in every 1,000 women may also suffer a severe illness known as postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is an emergency and if you or someone you know may be experiencing it, reach out to a doctor to discuss it as soon as possible.
How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
Untreated postpartum depression can persist for months or even years, but with the help of a doctor, life becomes more bearable. Treatment can help regulate symptoms, and for most, symptoms will fade with time; however, 38 percent of women with postpartum depression may experience long-term symptoms.
When postpartum depression is left untreated, parents are more likely to have long-term consequences like immune system issues, heart conditions, chronic pain, and sleep problems.
Close to half of the women who receive medical assistance continue to have symptoms more than a year after childbirth. In contrast, approximately one-third of those who do not receive medical therapy still have symptoms of depression up to three years after giving birth.
What Does Treatment Look Like?
Your specific circumstances will determine your doctor’s treatment options. If you have any other health causes, your physician may refer you to a specialist or mental healthcare professional.
There are several methods your doctor can use to differentiate between baby blues and the more long-term type of postpartum clinical depression. We know it can be really difficult to share your symptoms with your doctor and talk openly about them, but we promise you there’s no shame in anything you may be experiencing. So many new mothers experience postpartum depression and they’ve all gone through similar challenges.
In combination with other treatments, your doctor may recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you feel better (or other types of therapy!). Your doctor may also prescribe medications, like an antidepressant such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Your doctor will work with you to determine the best dosage, and discuss if it may interfere with breastfeeding.
What Else Can You Do?
We want you to know that you are not alone in dealing with PPD and that none of this is your fault. While you seek treatment from a doctor, there are a few small things you can do at home to support yourself. This won’t make your postpartum depression disappear but it will provide some short term relief:
- Participate in a support group
- Take as much time as possible to rest
- Share your emotions with friends and families
- Ask for help from others
Many parents feel this intense pressure to meet society’s expectations of feeling nothing but joy with their baby’s birth. It’s overwhelming! And once you add dropping hormone levels into the mix…well, that’s just not a cocktail of emotions that anyone wants. Bringing a baby into this world is a HUGE life change and new parents are allowed to feel everything from happiness to anxiety to grief. New moms may feel frightened about how many changes their bodies are going through, how their new baby is adapting to life outside the womb, AND how all of this is not quite lining up the way they thought it might. It’s a lot. Like a LOT a lot. Remember that you’re not alone. And remember that you’re not weak for feeling this way!