Experiencing Postpartum Depression When Your Child Is Older

Frustrated woman working on a laptop while her young son looks on in the background

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In This Article

The onset of postpartum depression is typically seen in mothers when their child is between the newborn stage and 6 months of age, but the experience is not limited to the first 6 months after birth. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), use the modifier "postpartum" to note when a woman is diagnosed with depression within the first year after the birth of a child.

Overview

Other modifiers can be used when symptoms of depression begin while a woman is pregnant and may persist after her baby is born (known as peripartum depression). However, some women feel the effects of postpartum depression longer than a year after giving birth.

As more women open up about their experiences with postpartum depression, it's becoming clear that the condition affects each woman differently. Actress Hayden Panettiere, for example, publicly sought professional treatment in a mental health facility when her daughter was more than 8 months old. 

“The postpartum depression I have been experiencing has impacted every aspect of my life,” she tweeted. “Rather than stay stuck due to unhealthy coping mechanisms, I have chosen to take time to reflect holistically on my health and life. Wish me luck!”

When Does It Occur?

The ACOG explains that postpartum depression can occur in women up until their baby's first birthday. There is no hard and fast rule about that one year mark, though. Despite its name, postpartum depression is not just a disorder that happens to mothers of newborns. 

There is evidence that postpartum depression can be a manifestation of untreated depression before pregnancy. The condition may, at times, be a mental health issue that grows more severe in the presence of hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and the stress of new motherhood.

Some mothers experience ​depression after weaning their babies from breastfeeding, which, for many women, doesn't occur until after a baby is a year old or older.

We still don't understand how or why some women get postpartum depression, but there are likely many factors that can contribute to it.

Signs and Symptoms

You should know the differences between postpartum depression and the so-called "baby blues" that can occur in the first few weeks of the postpartum period. It is normal to experience a week or two of feeling "out of sorts" or even being a little extra weepy or emotional after having a baby.

However, if these feelings last longer than two weeks postpartum and are interfering with your daily activities, it's a sign that you need to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Even though postpartum depression is common—affecting roughly one in seven women—it can be hard for some women to recognize.

Many women think that postpartum depression is "not that bad" or that it will go away on its own. These misconceptions can lead them to delay seeking treatment, and the condition can get worse.

Sometimes, women just don't recognize when it's happening—in part because many women think it's normal to feel constantly sad or tired after having a baby. While it's definitely a life-changing experience to be a new parent, if you are miserable and unable to cope, there is support and help available.

In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first-ever drug designed specifically to treat postpartum depression: Zulresso (brexanolone).

Zulresso is only approved for women who are up to six months postpartum. A woman might be a candidate for treatment with Zulresso if they have new-onset depression during the third trimester of pregnancy and/or up to six months postpartum.

When to Seek Help

While this is not an exhaustive list of postpartum depression symptoms, it is a good starting point for women who are concerned about the possibility of postpartum depression:

  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Constant guilt
  • Crying or a feeling of hopeless/sadness
  • Excessive mood swings 
  • Feeling like you aren't a good mother
  • Feelings that you want to hurt your baby or hurt yourself
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

It's also important to note that women who experience depression during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby may also experience anxiety. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it's important that you talk to your doctor. They can connect you with helpful resources, support, and treatment.

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Postpartum Depression. Updated 2019.

  2. American Psychiatric Association (APA). Postpartum Depression. Updated March 2017.

  3. Ghaedrahmati M, Kazemi A, Kheirabadi G, Ebrahimi A, Bahrami M. Postpartum depression risk factors: A narrative review. J Educ Health Promot. 2017;6:60. doi:10.4103%2Fjehp.jehp_9_16

  4. Stuart-Parrigon K, Stuart S. Perinatal depression: An update and overview. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014;16(9):468. doi:10.1007%2Fs11920-014-0468-6

Additional Reading
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2013). FAQ: Postpartum depression. Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq091.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20160523T1009470486
  • Postpartum Support International. (2016). Postpartum support. Retrieved from http://www.postpartum.net