Having a baby can be a highly emotional and difficult time. Experiencing the baby blues — including occasionally feeling tired, having crying spells or losing your appetite — can be normal right after having a baby, and may last for up to a couple of weeks. However, feeling sad, empty or withdrawn all the time, or for an extended period, could be a sign of postpartum depression (PPD).
Postpartum depression recovery times vary from mother to mother, but symptoms are unlikely to simply resolve on their own. Some people may suffer from PPD for years. Since postpartum depression can impact the health of both mother and child, getting help is vital.
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Onset of Symptoms & Overall Duration
The onset of postpartum depression usually occurs between two to six weeks after giving birth. However, the disorder can emerge up to six months after birth and women should continue to be screened during this time.
The duration of postpartum depression can depend on how quickly a woman receives treatment and her mental health history. A review of studies on postpartum depression has shown that an average of 31.3% of mothers still met diagnostic criteria for PPD at three to four months postpartum, 23.1% at 12 months and 38.5% at three years after giving birth.
Seeking psychiatric treatment or taking medication can shorten the duration of PPD for many people. There are different treatment options that can be tailored to ensure a child’s safety while breastfeeding.
Postpartum Depression Timeline
The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression may change as time goes on. There’s no standard postpartum depression timeline, but many women may experience similar changes in the weeks and months after the birth of their child:
- One to six months:
This time usually features an intense period of changes and is when postpartum depression emerges for the first time. This period is characterized by mood swings and minimal sleep. Since these are also signs of having a young baby, it’s important for doctors to screen for and discuss the possibility of postpartum depression.
- Six months to one year:
At this stage, the baby blues will have subsided. If a persistent low mood lingers, it should be discussed with a doctor. Women may receive treatment for postpartum depression during this stage, which may include therapy, medication or self-care practices like meditation or yoga.
- One to four years postpartum:
By this point, some women may be continuing treatment as a small portion may experience symptoms for years after birth. Others may be planning to have another child. It can be important to discuss previous postpartum depression with a doctor if planning another pregnancy in order to implement some preventative strategies and monitor symptoms after birth.
The course of postpartum depression is different for everyone. However, the sooner you recognize the symptoms or ask for help, the quicker treatment can be started and symptoms improved.
Risk Factors for Chronic PPD
There are several risk factors for postpartum depression, but having a risk factor does not guarantee that you will have postpartum depression. Having a risk factor can mean it is important to monitor symptoms after birth or discuss preventative strategies with your doctor during pregnancy.
- Some of the risk factors for chronic PPD include:
- History of depression or mental health conditions
- Limited partner support
- A major life event or stressor during pregnancy
- A family history of postpartum depression
One of the strongest risk factors for postpartum depression is having had it before. Talking to your doctor about mental health history is the best way to plan for a safe and healthy postpartum period.
How Treatment Can Help
Getting treatment for postpartum depression can improve a mother’s symptoms and allow her to focus on her new baby. Many people can underestimate postpartum depression, but it can be equally severe as major depression and does require treatment to get better. Getting therapy or taking postpartum depression medication or a combination of both are all possible treatment options.
Postpartum depression is a psychiatric condition and the first step to getting better is asking for help.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Postpartum Depression.” Office on Women’s Health, May 14, 2019. Accessed September 21, 2019.
Vilegan, Nicole; Casalin, Sara; Luyten, P. “The Course of Postpartum Depression: A Review of Longitudinal Studies.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 2014. Accessed September 21, 2019.
Pearlstein, Teri; et al. “Postpartum depression.” American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 2009. Am J Obstet Gynecol. Accessed September 21, 2019.
Hirst, Kathryn P; Moutier, Christine Y. “ Postpartum Major Depression.” American Family Physician, October 15, 2010. Accessed September 21, 2019.
Patel, Milapkumar. “Postpartum Depression: A Review.” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 2012. Accessed September 21, 2019.