Postpartum depression is a mental health condition that occurs after childbirth and is something one in nine mothers will experience. A woman’s body and mind undergoes a significant number of changes during pregnancy and childbirth, and can leave her feeling unbalanced, unsure, and depressed. While common, this can be a very serious condition, and is something all pregnant women should be aware of. While there’s no set time limit on how long postpartum depression can last, by understanding what it looks like and what causes it, you can be a little more prepared to seek treatment if necessary.
What is Postpartum Depression?
While most women experience what is called the “baby blues”, where they feel sad or empty following the birth of their baby, it typically goes away in 3-5 days. These baby blues can be caused by a number of things, like having all the focus and attention shifted away from you and toward the baby, feeling empty now that you’re no longer carrying your baby, or just from feeling overwhelmed by the entire experience. All of these feelings are completely normal.
However, some “baby blues” don’t go away and last over two weeks or the feelings get more severe. This is known as postpartum depression and is not something you should dismiss as normal. Postpartum depression (or PPD) is a serious mental illness that affects not only your mental health, but your physical health and your day to day life. The feelings of depression, emptiness, or hopelessness can range from mild to severe.
While there’s no single cause of it, a number of factors come into play. While pregnant, your body experiences a number of hormonal changes – your estrogen and progesterone levels are high, but will rapidly drop to normal levels in the first 24 hours following childbirth. This drastic change in hormonal balances is thought to have a significant impact in causing postpartum depression. Another possible factor is thyroid hormone levels. These can drop following childbirth and can cause depression. This can easily be checked with a simple blood test and remedied with thyroid medication!
Other factors that can contribute and are harder to diagnose are:
- Being tired after delivery and a lack of sleep
- The overwhelm from having a new baby
- Doubts about your abilities
- Realizing the changes in lifestyle
- Body dysmorphia
- Lack of attention from loved ones
- Not having enough help
All of these feelings are common after childbirth, if they grow in severity or last for longer than two weeks, it could be postpartum depression. PPD is not normal and not something you should struggle with alone.
How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
Postpartum depression will typically begin to surface in the first few months following delivery and can become a long-term problem without treatment. By recognizing the symptoms and speaking with your medical provider early on, postpartum depression can be treated and go away soon after treatment begins.
However, left untreated, postpartum depression can last for months and, in some cases, years. Even once treated, PPD is known to resurface over time. Because of this, it’s very important to make sure you have a trusted partner, friend, or family member to help watch for symptoms so it doesn’t go unnoticed and get worse. Symptoms can include:
- Feelings of sadness, guilt, anxiety, or overwhelm
- Feeling “nothing” for your baby
- Moodiness, restlessness, or uncharacteristic anger
- Difficulty sleeping
- Crying more often than usual
- Difficulty focusing
- Aches and pains like headaches or muscle pain
- Eating too much or too little
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Suicidal thoughts
Any of these symptoms could be an indicator of postpartum depression. Speak to your healthcare provider immediately to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options.
How is Postpartum Depression Treated?
While treatment will depend on your condition, lifestyle, and healthcare provider, there are a number of options available:
- Medication: Many doctors will prescribe an antidepressant or SSRI to help treat the symptoms of postpartum depression. They will work with you to find an adequate dosage, and then monitor your progress to make sure it’s working. This medication can be continued for up to a year or longer.
- Counseling: Often used in combination with medication, counseling is a great way to treat the symptoms of PPD. A counselor will work with you to help you recognize your feelings and develop healthy coping mechanisms to counteract the negative feelings.
In addition to treatment, your healthcare provider will likely also suggest steps to take at home, such as getting more sleep, asking for help, or joining a support group to discuss your feelings with others.
It’s important to recognize the seriousness of postpartum depression and be aware that it’s a common occurrence for new mothers. By being educated on the symptoms and having a support system ready, you can be prepared for the possibility and treatment to start feeling better as soon as possible. You are not alone.
Postpartum Depression International: Call or text help to 1-800-944-4773
National Parent Helpline: Call 1-855-427-2736
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255