How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

Medically Reviewed By Marc S. Lener, MD
Was this helpful?
3

Someone who just gave birth may feel what many call “baby blues.” However, if feelings of sadness last for longer than 2 weeks or become so intense that it becomes difficult to function, these could indicate postpartum depression (PPD). Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018 found that around 1 in every 7 women reported symptoms of PPD in the first 2–6 months following childbirth. Some people develop symptoms early, while others may develop them months later.

Guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that up to 25% of men can experience PPD after the birth of a child, with rates reaching as high as 50% if the mother is also experiencing PPD.

This article looks at how long PPD can last. It also covers symptoms to watch for and options for finding effective PPD treatment.

Sex and gender terms

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “women” and “mothers” to refer to people who give birth to reflect the language that appears in source materials.

Postpartum depression timeline

Young mother walking on sidewalk in city with infant in carrier on her chest
Willie Thomas/Getty Images

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “baby blues” tend to improve within a few days or 1–2 weeks and do not typically require treatment. According to the AAP, up to 80% of women experience baby blues.

The ACOG goes on to say that PPD often begins about 1–3 weeks after delivery, but it can also start up to a year later.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains that the timeline for PPD can vary considerably from person to person. The NIH quotes research from the journal Pediatrics that found that about 25% of mothers experience some level of PPD symptoms for as long as 3 years after having their baby.

The Pediatrics study evaluated the participants’ symptoms at 4, 12, 24, and 36 months after childbirth. In their analysis, the researchers identified four trajectories for PPD:

Trajectory typePrevalenceLevel of symptoms
low-stable75%low level for the duration of PPD
low-increasing8%initially mild but slowly increasing in severity
medium-increasing13%moderate symptoms that come and go for the duration of PPD
high-persistent5%high level for the duration of PPD

Symptoms of postpartum depression

PPD symptoms can range from low level effects that cause discomfort but do not interfere with daily activities to more severe symptoms that affect the ability to function.

The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) lists these warning signs of PPD:

  • feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • a sense of feeling overwhelmed
  • frequent crying
  • feeling disconnected from the baby
  • having thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby
  • irregular sleep habits
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • feeling worthless or like a bad parent
  • changes in eating habits
  • chronic headaches, muscle pain, or stomach symptoms

The NIH notes that many women do not know the symptoms of PPD or realize that effective treatment is available.

Because untreated PPD presents a risk to parents and caregivers, children, and other family members, the AAP recommends the routine screening of mothers for PPD symptoms. The AAP suggests that pediatricians perform these screenings during well-child visits for children at 1, 2, 4, and 6 months.

Postpartum psychosis

Severe PPD can be disabling without treatment, but it is not the same as postpartum psychosis, which is a serious mental health condition that requires emergency treatment.

The OWH notes that postpartum psychosis is rare, occurring in 4 out of every 1,000 births.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis usually come on suddenly, typically within 1–2 weeks of giving birth. They include:

  • delusions (believing or thinking things that are not true)
  • hallucinations
  • feelings of mania (an excessively high, frantic mood)
  • confusion
  • paranoia
  • thoughts of harming yourself or your child

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help immediately. Share your symptoms with your doctor, midwife, or nurse practitioner. If there is a risk of imminent danger, call 911 or immediately go to the closest emergency room.

Postpartum psychosis is treatable with professional medical help.

Risk factors for postpartum depression

Researchers are still unclear on what causes PPD, but they believe that a combination of genetic, social, and psychological factors can play a role.

The OWH lists the following risk factors for PPD:

  • a personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder
  • depression during pregnancy
  • medical complications during labor and delivery or immediately after
  • difficulties with a previous pregnancy or delivery
  • having a baby with special needs, such as one who is premature or has medical conditions
  • having an unintended pregnancy
  • a history of alcohol use disorder or substance misuse
  • difficulty breastfeeding
  • relationship problems or financial concerns
  • social isolation or a lack of support
  • being younger than 20 years old

Not everyone who has these risk factors will develop PPD, and not everyone with PPD will have these risk factors.
If you have concerns about your risk of PPD, talk with your healthcare team at any time during your pregnancy or after childbirth. They can provide guidance on treatment options and help minimize the severity of PPD symptoms.

How postpartum depression affects children

The OWH cites research that suggests that PPD in mothers can have a significant impact on children as well, with potential issues including:

  • problems with bonding between mother and child
  • behavioral problems
  • irritability and crying
  • delays in language development
  • difficulty learning
  • slowed social development

A review of several studies published in Women’s Health also found evidence of effects on infants, including:

  • shorter length
  • more illnesses
  • impaired motor skills
  • slower cognitive development
  • reduced language skills

Early treatment of PPD is essential to prevent long-term effects on both the mother and child. Talk with your doctor or healthcare team about which treatment options may be right for you.

Treatment for postpartum depression

PPD treatment focuses on improving symptoms and helping you return to your best health. It may take a few tries to find the right treatment — or combination of treatments — but together, you and your healthcare team can work to find the most effective option for you.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists the following PPD treatments.

Talk therapy

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can take place one-on-one with a therapist or in a group setting. The goal is to help you talk about what is happening, discuss how you feel about it, and identify steps to manage your symptoms. Some people respond well to talk therapy after only a few weeks, while others require more time.

One type of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. This process helps people refocus their thinking and find new ways to react to stressful situations or emotions.

Another type, called interpersonal therapy, helps people practice their communication skills and strengthen their relationships to build networks of social support.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants can help relieve symptoms of depression by changing the way your brain uses chemicals related to stress or strong emotions.

If you are nursing, talk with your healthcare team about how antidepressants might affect your milk supply. The benefits of improving your PPD symptoms may outweigh the risks of passing low levels of antidepressants to your baby. Your doctor or pharmacist can provide guidance on which antidepressants carry the lowest risk.

The NIMH notes that some antidepressants can take up to 6–8 weeks to begin reducing symptoms. Never stop taking any antidepressant medication without first speaking with your doctor. They may be able to find other medications or help you manage side effects.

Learn more about drugs that doctors prescribe to treat depression here.

Electroconvulsive therapy

In cases of postpartum psychosis, when other treatment options have not been effective, doctors may recommend electroconvulsive therapy. This process uses very small electrical impulses to stimulate changes in brain chemistry.

At-home care

Along with medical treatment, there are some steps you can take at home to help manage symptoms of PPD. These include:

  • talking about your feelings with someone you trust, such as a friend, neighbor, or family member
  • being open with your partner or other adults who are helping you parent your child
  • asking for help caring for your baby or doing tasks that are overwhelming you
  • resting as much as you can and sleeping when the baby sleeps
  • joining a support group, either online or in person, to talk with other parents or caregivers who share your experiences
  • making time for yourself, even if it is just a walk through your neighborhood

Seeking emergency help

If you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, this is a medical emergency. Please reach out for help. Place your baby in the crib or somewhere safe and call someone for help.

Some other actions you can take include:

  • calling 911
  • calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-8255
  • texting HOME to 741741

Remember, you are not alone, and treatment is available.

Summary

PPD is a common condition that can occur anywhere from 2 weeks to 1 year following the birth of a child. Symptoms of PPD include having feelings of sadness and hopelessness, feeling disconnected from your child, crying often, and having a sense of being overwhelmed.

People can experience PPD for up to 3 years after childbirth. The symptoms can be mild for the duration of the PPD, while some people experience moderate symptoms that come and go. A small percentage of people with PPD have sustained high level symptoms.

Untreated PPD can have harmful effects on both parents and children. Receiving early treatment is key to preventing the progression of PPD. Doctors recommend routine screenings for PPD symptoms during regular well-child visits in the first 6 months after delivery.

If you are experiencing symptoms of PPD, talk with your doctor or healthcare team about the available treatment options.

Was this helpful?
3
Medical Reviewer: Marc S. Lener, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 25
View All Depression Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.