How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

Parent looking out the window while sitting in a chair and holding a small baby

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The postpartum period can be a time of high emotion. Life changes, upheaval, and hormonal adjustments can all contribute to feelings of overwhelm and play a role in postpartum depression (PPD).

It is normal to experience mood changes during this period, but more persistent and severe symptoms may indicate postpartum depression. Learn when PPD might begin and how long it might last.

When Does Postpartum Depression Start?

The onset of postpartum depression is typically seen in parents when their child is between the newborn stage and 6 months of age. The experience, however, is not limited to the first six months after birth. 

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) use the modifier "postpartum" to note when a person is diagnosed with depression within the first year after the birth of a child.

However, some people feel the effects of postpartum depression longer than a year after giving birth. As more people open up about their experiences with postpartum depression, it's becoming clear that the condition affects each individual differently. 

Peripartum Depression

When symptoms of depression begin while a person is pregnant and persist after their baby is born, it is known as peripartum depression.

How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

According to ACOG, postpartum depression can occur in people 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 something that happens to parents of newborns. 

Studies indicate that PPD usually resolves within 3-6 months.

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 breastfeeding parents experience ​depression after weaning their babies, which, for many, doesn't occur until after a baby is a year old or older. A 2020 study found that 25% of parents had elevated depressive symptoms as long as three years postpartum.

Factors That May Affect How Long It Lasts

No timeline can definitively say how long PPD will last. A timeframe for recovery is different for everyone. For some, it lasts longer than the 3-6 months average. Several factors may contribute to PPD that lasts longer.

Risk factors for longer recovery from PPD:

  • Lack of partner and social support
  • A history of depression or anxiety
  • An abusive partner
  • A history of childhood sexual abuse
  • Major life changes or stress
  • Financial worries
  • Struggle to adapt to demands of parenthood
  • High standards and excessive self-criticism

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

The "baby blues" that can occur in the first few weeks of the postpartum period are not the same as postpartum depression. 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. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, continues beyond an initial couple of postpartum weeks. 

Symptoms of PPD include:

  • Crying or a feeling of hopelessness/sadness
  • Anger
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Feeling disconnected from your baby
  • Fearing that you will hurt your baby or hurt yourself
  • Constant guilt
  • Feeling like you aren't a good parent

People who experience depression during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby may also experience anxiety. If your symptoms 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.

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.

Diagnosis

Experts suspect that postpartum depression is under-diagnosed. People don’t always report symptoms due to stigma or misinformation.

Sometimes, people don't recognize when PPD is happening—in part because many new parents think it's normal to feel constantly sad or tired after having a baby. Also, sometimes people think their depression isn’t that bad or that it will go away on its own. 

If you are miserable and unable to cope, talk to your doctor. Doctors typically use screening tools, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), to assess and diagnose postpartum depression. A score of nine or greater on the EPDS indicates possible depression. 

Getting Help

If you have been diagnosed with postpartum depression, it is essential to start treatment. The sooner you begin treatment, the sooner you can expect to be back to feeling like yourself. There are a number of treatment options for people experiencing PPD. 

It is common to utilize more than one treatment at a time. For instance, you may want to use medication and go to counseling. It is also ok to try something new if one option doesn’t produce results. Work with your doctor to determine which options make sense for you.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is often one of the first treatment options offered to people with mild to moderate cases of PPD. Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), which focuses on interpersonal distress as the primary catalyst for depression, has shown consistent results.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on your thoughts related to your behaviors, is also an option. Nondirective counseling is the most hands-off approach that focuses on listening and self-affirmation.

The most important consideration with psychotherapy is finding a therapist that is a good fit for you. You may need to interview a handful of therapists before finding one with a personality and style that works for you.

Ask your friends and family members for recommendations. Parent groups can also be an excellent resource for finding names of therapists with good reputations for treating PPD. 

Medication

Medication is also a first-line treatment for PPD. There are many antidepressants that people experiencing postpartum depression can use. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and bupropion (Wellbutrin) are some common examples. 

Anti-anxiety medication may be an option, especially if your PPD symptoms fall more on the anxiety end of the spectrum.

For those whose PPD began within four weeks of giving birth and who are less than six months postpartum, Zulresso (brexanolone) is an intravenous infusion drug specifically designed for treating PPD.

Postpartum psychosis may additionally require treatment with mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medications.

Many antidepressants are approved for use in breastfeeding but talk to your doctor to be sure.

A Word From Verywell

Postpartum depression is difficult, but treatment can help. While PPD is sometimes confused with the “baby blues,” postpartum depression lasts longer and can occur anytime within the first year after you give birth. There is no single timeline for when symptoms may begin or end, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice that you have symptoms of PPD.

If you are diagnosed with postpartum depression, you may feel overwhelmed or like you have failed at being a new parent. Remember, PPD is common and treatable. It is not an indication that you are weak or doing something wrong. 

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Article Sources
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  8. American Psychological Association. Treating postpartum depression. Published 2011. 

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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