How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last? Symtoms & Treatment 2023

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Reviewed by Sutton, D., MD

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How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last

If you or someone you know has been feeling ‘numb’ after a birthing period, chances are that you are experiencing postpartum depression. 

Yes! That is correct! 

Perhaps to your surprise,  what you may be feeling has actually been termed and researched thoroughly for decades.

So rest assured, we have brought forth some of the most important information regarding postpartum depression, supported by scientific literature and modern practical applications utilized in the healthcare setting. 

What Could You Learn About Postpartum Mood And Behavioural Changes?

Within this article, I have highlighted the following;

  • What is postpartum depression?
  • The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression 
  • The diagnosis of postpartum depression
  • How long does postpartum depression last?
  • Why might it last longer? 
  • How can PPD affect your life?
  • When you should contact a doctor 
  • How to get relief? 
  • Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression, also referred to as the ‘baby blues’, can be defined as depression in mood[1], influencing behaviour, that can then translate into a reduction in the quality of life. 

Postpartum depression is most common amongst new mothers, globally affecting up to 20%[2] per year. 

On the other hand, postpartum depression has also been identified in fathers[3], although it is far less prevalent, affecting only 9%[4] of this sub-group. 

Nevertheless, anyone affected by postpartum depression should be addressed and treated appropriately.

The 11 Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression 

Emotional Crying 

One of the most noticeable symptoms of Postpartum depression is a decrease in mood, resulting in emotional crying[5] and at times whining.

Anhedonia

Anhedonia, in layman’s terms, means a loss of interest in the activities that you normally enjoy and appreciate, the typical ‘I can’t be bothered’ attitude. Some general examples of Anhedonia could be that you no longer take interest in your daily walks, attending the gym, reading your favourite books, watching your favourite TV show etc.  

Agitation Or Irritability 

This is the state of becoming extremely anxious and aroused, thereby causing erratic movements and actions. A sign of agitation can be a display of anger and verbal, or even physical abuse towards a family member or work colleagues. 

Lethargy 

Lethargy is the state of feeling tired and low on energy most of the time. Often, those experiencing this symptom, tend to remain in bed for long periods of time. 

Insomnia And Sleep Disturbances 

The inability to get to sleep (insomnia) can be caused by the increase in arousal or lowered mood often identified in those undergoing postpartum depression. This postpartum related insomnia is independent from night-time baby waking bouts.

Hypersomnia Or Excessive Day Time Sleepiness 

 In contrast, some individuals may experience  excessive day-time napping, or just feeling sleepy without being able to fall asleep. This could either be a direct symptom of postpartum depression, or a by-product of night-time insomnia.  

Loss Of Appetite Or Binge Eating  

The loss of appetite goes hand in hand with Anhedonia. Those experienced postpartum depression may lose their appetite and interest in eating. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some individuals may release a significant amount of the stress hormone cortisol and satiety hormone ghrelin, causing them to over indulge in foods. 

Both of the appetite related symptoms can be detrimental to health, as you will come to learn if you stay tuned in to the article. 

Lack Of Bonding With The New-Born 

Bonding time with the new-born can become scarce, as parents may not feel a sense of satisfaction and joy from being present. For this reason, the baby is often neglected and left in the cot for most of the day. 

Post-Natal Anxiety 

A parent can often become anxious and worried that something ‘bad’ may occur with the baby. A common induced illness is that the baby may stop engaging in regular feedings and become malnourished. 

Feeling Guilty 

At times, a parent may feel guilty, hopelessness, and blame themselves for fabricated or uncontrollable catastrophes. 

Feeling Unworthy 

It is very common for those experiencing this condition to feel unworthy and unwanted by the baby, even though we all know that a newborn can not possess this level of rationality.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

During pregnancy, the female hormones estrogen and progesterone are elevated[6] significantly. 

This hormonal change allows for an increased blood flow towards the uterus and placenta to support the baby. 

After childbirth these hormones drop drastically, with simultaneous postpartum depression. 
For this reason, postpartum depression is believed to be caused by a sudden dip of these female hormones[7], after the birthing period.

Diagnosis

If the signs and symptoms have not subsided within 2 weeks, it is important to book an appointment with your GP.

The doctor may assess you via Q&A, screening, or questionnaires relating to the highlighted symptoms. 

It is important for you to be open with your medical doctor and mention all of your symptoms, for a more thorough diagnosis. 

Moreover, the doctor may order a variety of tests[8] to rule out any other conditions that could be causing the symptoms. 

The doctor will provide an appropriate treatment plan, depending on the severity of the condition and how it is affecting the quality of your life/health.

Some of the major concerns are lack of self-nourishment, self-harm, and whether the newborn is being looked after[9]

When Does Postpartum Depression Typically Start?

From what we understand about postpartum depression, the vast majority of patients display major symptoms in the first few months after child birth, typically anywhere from months 1-12. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, 1/3 of conditions start pre-natal, where symptoms can slowly settle in over the postpartum period.

How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

In most cases, postpartum depression should subside within around 2 weeks[10] after picking up symptoms.

Why It Might Last Longer For You?

When left untreated, a smaller 38%[11] of patients may undergo more chronic depression symptoms[12], lasting 1-36+ months[13] after childbirth. For this reason, I can not stress the importance of seeking appropriate treatment in a good time. 

A study by Putnick and colleagues looked at the trajectories of postpartum depression amongst 4866 women. The researchers found that 11% of the women showed moderate symptoms at 4 months, 8% at 12 months, 6% at 24 months, and 7% at 36 months. 

Without delving into too much detail, other than lack of treatments, there are variables that predispose women to chronic symptoms. These variables include; age, race/ethnicity, educational level, medical conditions, and previous mental health disorders. 

Overall, the highest risk factor for chronic postpartum depression is linked to age (<25) and medical conditions, diabetes mellitus to be specific.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is good whether you want bigger hips. So always incorporate regular exercise into your lifestyle and remember that a good calorie intake and exercise always go together.

How PPD Can Affect Your Life?

Based on how the condition impacts a new mothers thought process and behaviour, there is a possibility of 5 acute life changes that have been highlighted below. 

Postpartum Weight Loss

A loss of appetite as a postpartum depression symptom may promote under eating, which could then drive negative energy balance and subsequent unhealthy weight loss. Over the long term, this could cause anorexia, malnourishment and the degradation of bodily tissues and hormones. 

Postpartum Weight Gain 

On the other hand, some women may indulge in more food, thus causing a caloric surplus with a significant unhealthy weight gain. If overeating is coupled with a reduction in caloric expenditure from the anhedonia and lethargy symptoms, you could expect weight gain to speed up drastically. Becoming overweight or obese increases the risk of major illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. 

Presenteeism

When you are all tied up in emotionally crying, with a lost interest, and lethargy, you may neglect the important aspects of life, I.e., working out, job responsibilities, studying etc. This could really impact your future. 

Affecting Relationships 

If you have a very supportive circle who understands your situation, they may be able to put up with your response to the anxiety and agitation. However, some people may take offense, which may be detrimental to maintaining a healthy relationship. 

Reduced Concentration And Decision Making 

The reduction in concentration and poor decision making, could be directly correlated to postpartum depression, or as a result of insufficient sleep. Perhaps you find it difficult to concentrate whilst driving or cooking? This can be very detrimental and even life threatening to you and those around you. Imagine driving with poor cognition and causing a serious accident or a direct impact with a pedestrian.

When You Should Contact A Doctor?

It is recommended to contact your doctor if

  • The symptoms do not subside within 2-3 weeks
  • You have lost interest and are not feeding your new-born on time
  • You have lost your appetite and are not nourishing yourself 
  • You are not washing yourself
  • You are feeling agitated and are abusing those around you
  • Your cognitive functions are impaired to the extent of putting yourself or those around you in danger, i.e., a car accident, burning the house whilst cooking, cutting your fingers while dicing vegetables etc  

When Is It Crucial To Contact The Emergency Services? 

It is crucial to contact the national emergency services if the postpartum depression is detrimental to you or the newborn’s life.

For example;

  • If you have suicidal thoughts 
  • Thoughts or actions of harming the newborn

How To Get Relief?

The following treatments are based on the practical application of NHS England. 

Guided Self-Help 

  • Talking About It[14] – The NHS recommends talking to your family and close friends in regards to your feelings. A simple intervention like this can make you realise that others care, which may relieve some symptoms.
  • Request Help[15] – As the postpartum period can be stressful, you should request help if required I.e., ask your partner to do the shopping.
  • Make time – it is important to engage in activities that you appreciate, i.e., having a warm bath. 
  • Rest and Relax[16] – Take regular breaks from your busy day and try to set a good sleep schedule. 
  • Exercise – Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) which may improve your mood.
  • Self-Help Material[17] – the NHS provide lots of self-help material and 2-3 month courses to remodel your thought process.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a technique where you talk to a therapist[18] who will try to help remodel your thinking process[19] which will then alter your behavior and symptoms[20].

The NHS can signpost you to external organizations like ‘healthy minds’. There should be similar services across the globe. 

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) 

IPT is another talking therapy, where you will discuss all of your problems[21] that may be contributing to your postpartum depression. 

Antidepressant Medication 

Medication is another option for more moderate to intense conditions.  

Antidepressants can remodel the chemicals in the brain[22], which may improve your mood and behavior. Antidepressants usually require around 2-3 weeks to work. Keep in mind, that antidepressants may have adverse effects like dizziness, nausea[23], or sometimes more chronic problems.

The Takeaway

Postpartum depression is very common among women.

The condition typically starts within the first 12 months of giving birth. 

Signs and symptoms can be identified easily by oneself or those present, i.e. your partner. 

You can be addressed by your doctor, and provided with an appropriate treatment plan based on the severity of the condition. 

When treatment is acquired in good time, you are on track to ‘normalizing’ your mood, behavior, and quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What factors may increase a patient’s risk of postpartum depression?

As we have highlighted in the article, variables that increase risk include; ethnicity/race, education level, age, previous mental health conditions, and a big one is health status (diabetes mellitus).

Who is most likely to get postpartum depression?

From what we have noted through large population survey studies, women younger than 25 and women who have given birth to twins are more likely to develop postpartum depression. 

Does postpartum depression last a lifetime?

The truth is that some symptoms can last a lifetime to some extent. That’s not to say they can’t be controlled with appropriate treatment. 

What are the outcomes for the newborn?

As a lot of women begin to experience some symptoms prior to giving birth, there’s a possibility of;
Low birth weight 
Preterm birth 
Cognitive impairments during development 
Note that the baby may not always develop these issues, but is at a higher risk than ‘normal’.

How long after giving birth can you get postpartum depression?

It is possible to get postpartum depression anywhere from 1 day to 1 year after the birthing period. However, as I have highlighted multiple times, symptoms of the conditions can begin prior to giving birth.

+ 23 sources

MIDSS has strict procurement guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutes and medical associations. We work primarily with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accuracy. We avoid using tertiary references. For more information on how we ensure the accuracy and timeliness of our content, please see our editorial policy.

  1. Alsayed, Najma A, et al. “Prevalence of Postpartum Depression and Associated Risk Factors among Women in Jeddah, Western Saudi Arabia.” Cureus, 21 Apr. 2021, 10.7759/cureus.14603.
  2. Ahn, EunJin, and Hyun Kang. “Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Korean Journal of Anesthesiology, vol. 71, no. 2, 2 Apr. 2018, pp. 103–112, dx.doi.org/10.4097%2Fkjae.2018.71.2.103, 10.4097/kjae.2018.71.2.103.
  3. Zheng, Jie, et al. “Predictors of Postpartum Depression among Chinese Mothers and Fathers in the Early Postnatal Period: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Midwifery, vol. 105, Feb. 2022, p. 103233, 10.1016/j.midw.2021.103233. Accessed 18 Jan. 2022.
  4. Eisner, Emily, et al. “Digital Screening for Postnatal Depression: Mixed Methods Proof-of-Concept Study.” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, vol. 22, no. 1, 23 May 2022, 10.1186/s12884-022-04756-2.
  5. Ahn, EunJin, and Hyun Kang. “Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Korean Journal of Anesthesiology, vol. 71, no. 2, 2 Apr. 2018, pp. 103–112, dx.doi.org/10.4097%2Fkjae.2018.71.2.103, 10.4097/kjae.2018.71.2.103.
  6. Ahn, EunJin, and Hyun Kang. “Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Korean Journal of Anesthesiology, vol. 71, no. 2, 2 Apr. 2018, pp. 103–112, dx.doi.org/10.4097%2Fkjae.2018.71.2.103, 10.4097/kjae.2018.71.2.103.
  7. Ahn, EunJin, and Hyun Kang. “Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Korean Journal of Anesthesiology, vol. 71, no. 2, 2 Apr. 2018, pp. 103–112, dx.doi.org/10.4097%2Fkjae.2018.71.2.103, 10.4097/kjae.2018.71.2.103.
  8. “Postnatal Depression.” Nhs.uk, 15 Feb. 2021, www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/.
  9. Wisner, Katherine L., et al. “Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-Harm, and Diagnoses in Postpartum Women with Screen-Positive Depression Findings.” JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 70, no. 5, 1 May 2013, p. 490, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1666651, 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.87.
  10. “Postnatal Depression.” Nhs.uk, 15 Feb. 2021, www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/.
  11. Vliegen, Nicole, et al. “The Course of Postpartum Depression.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, vol. 22, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1–22, ppw.kuleuven.be/home/alumni/nieuws/aangeraden-publicaties/hrp-22-1-course-of-postpartum-depression.pdf, 10.1097/hrp.0000000000000013. Accessed 17 Sept. 2019.
  12. Vliegen, Nicole, et al. “The Course of Postpartum Depression.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, vol. 22, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1–22, ppw.kuleuven.be/home/alumni/nieuws/aangeraden-publicaties/hrp-22-1-course-of-postpartum-depression.pdf, 10.1097/hrp.0000000000000013. Accessed 17 Sept. 2019.
  13. Putnick, Diane L., et al. “Trajectories of Maternal Postpartum Depressive Symptoms.” Pediatrics, vol. 146, no. 5, 27 Oct. 2020, p.