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Postpartum Depression May Persist Up to Three Years After Giving Birth

Woman sitting solemnly with baby in arms

Key Takeaways

  • 10-15 percent of birthing parents deal with postpartum depression.
  • New research shows that symptoms can last for 3 years after birth.
  • Pre-existing conditions can increase the potential to develop postpartum depression.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that new parents be screened for PPD up to six months after birth. This new study, published in Trajectories of Maternal Postpartum Depressive Symptoms, discussed how PPD symptoms can actually extend past this window of time.

Cohorts of participants were arranged based on population, and each had their depressive symptoms assessed at 4, 12, 24, and 36 months after birth. Researchers discovered that 25 percent of the birthing parents in their cohort had noticeable and elevated symptoms of depression 3 years after their child was born. 

The Dangers of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common illness, affecting 10-15% of people who give birth. PPD occurs post-birth, and presents similarly to depression at other times in life, but is compounded by the expectation and potential lack of desire to care for a new baby.

The severity of the disorder varies and can result in symptoms such as sleep disorders, mood swings, changes in appetite, difficulty with concentration, and lack of interest in daily activities. In extreme cases, new parents can experience thoughts of death and suicide, leading PPD-related suicide to be a cause for 20% of postpartum deaths.

PPD Postpartum depression affects not only the parent who is experiencing the symptoms, but the child and their non-birthing partner. Because the effects of PPD can impact a child’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development, proper treatment is paramount for all involved.

What are the Risk Factors for PPD? 

Warning signs for PPD vary, but the onset of symptoms often occurs between 4 and 12 weeks after birth. Zaher Merhi, MD, OB-GYN, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist and founder of Rejuvenating Fertility Center in Connecticut says, “Warning signs for postpartum depression include changes in sleep and eating habits, reluctance to take care of the baby, and bouts of emotional outbreaks.”

There is no guarantee whether or not an individual will deal with postpartum depression after giving birth. Researchers found that factors that exacerbate the potential include gestational diabetes and previous history of mood disorders. 

Zaher Merhi, MD, OBGYN

Warning signs for postpartum depression include changes in sleep and eating habits, reluctance to take care of the baby, and bouts of emotional outbreaks.

— Zaher Merhi, MD, OBGYN

Additionally, tangible factors like having financial stability and support can impact a pregnancy and have an effect on the potential for PPD. Researchers found that there was a lower-level of potential for PPD development for birthing parents that had higher education, which is often connected to higher-paying jobs and financial security.

These parents were also more likely to have planned their pregnancies. Merhi supported the claim that negative feelings around a pregnancy increase the risk of PPD, in addition to other potential risk factors such as: 

  • Moderate to severe PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
  • History of sexual abuse or domestic violence
  • High-risk pregnancy
  • Lack of social or financial support 
  • Anemia or fatigue

While researchers found that PPD can extend far past six months, they did not report any factors or findings that connect to how long the PPD will last. Merhi supports this and adds that ignoring symptoms have a good chance of extending and exacerbating your symptoms.

“There are no factors that determine how long the depression can last once it sets in. However, lack of treatment, lack of support, lack of seeking help can all cause perpetuation and worsening of the depression.” says Merhi.

How Can This Study Be Helpful?

This data collected from researchers could encourage pediatric and mental health professionals to recommend that PPD screenings extend past the current 6-month mark. Additionally, studies like these can both promote discussions around the commonality of PPD and encourage those are dealing with symptoms to seek treatment.

For partners of those that are dealing with PPD symptoms, Merhi encourages dealing with your own feelings in addition to being patient with your struggling co-parent. “Always remember that your partner cannot change the situation that they are in. They are not willingly having these feelings. They will require your help and support. It is okay for you to seek support from family members and friends as well.

Merhi makes a key final point, "Remember that your mental health is also important, so make sure you take enough breaks and deal with your emotions appropriately. “ says Merhi.

What This Means For You

While the likelihood of postpartum depression is openly discussed, some new parents feel shame around negative feelings during a time they are expected to be happy. If you are having trouble coping after the birth of a child, it is not a reflection of you or your capability - it is a very common bodily response after birth and you have options.

Be kind to yourself, and ensure that you are honest about your feelings, and seek out help from a mental health professional during this time to aid in your coping and transition to your new baby.

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Article Sources
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  2. CDC. Depression during and after pregnancy. Updated May 14, 2020.

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  4. Avalos LA, Flanagan T, Li DK. Preventing perinatal depression to improve maternal and child health-a health care imperativeJAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(4):313-314. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5491