How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

Postpartum depression is easily treatable, but an early diagnosis is key.

Mother looking at crying newborn baby at home

Stígur Már Karlsson/Heimsmyndir/E+/Getty Images

Depression experienced during the perinatal period is common, affecting between 10% and 20% of women in the United States.

After childbirth, most mothers experience the “baby blues,” which is a common postpartum mood disorder that includes symptoms of unhappiness, feelings of worry, and exhaustion. The “baby blues” usually last two weeks or less, and the symptoms will resolve independently. However, if they don’t, then you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).

Postpartum depression, another perinatal mood disorder, is more serious and requires treatment. Postpartum depression is considered a major depressive disorder that usually presents itself within the first eight weeks postpartum, but it can occur anytime within the first year after childbirth.

Depression Signs and Symptoms

The following are some symptoms that are often present in clinical depression—postpartum or otherwise:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Having trouble sleeping or sitting still
  • Feeling anxious or sad
  • Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Abnormal changes in appetite, diet, or weight 
  • Digestive issues, such as cramps or headaches
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide or death

Additonal Symptoms Present in PPD

With postpartum depression, you may also feel emotionally detached from your new baby. You may feel anxious or stressed with childbearing responsibilities, or you experience excessive worry about your child’s health or well-being, among other symptoms.

If you’re experiencing postpartum depression or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, you shouldn’t suffer alone. Please speak with your doctor or even your child’s doctor during well-child visits to let them know how you’re feeling.

How Long Does PPD Last?

Your doctor can diagnose postpartum depression as early as 10 to 14 days after giving birth, says Emma Basch, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist. At that time, if you are still experiencing mood symptoms on most days, and if those symptoms are impacting your functioning, then your doctor can diagnose postpartum depression.

The sooner postpartum depression is diagnosed, the better. When dealing with postpartum depression, early intervention is critical for the mother’s mental health and the child’s cognitive development. If the mother's depression is not treated, it can impact the child's cognitive development.

How long the depression lasts, however, depends on many factors, including but not limited to: the woman’s mental health history, hormonal changes, psychological or social distress, or life stressors like a traumatic birth experience or life event.

Upon diagnosis and treatment, symptoms can improve quickly. Dr. Basch says you may feel better within weeks of diagnosis. However, this may not be the case for everyone. Mental health treatment requires an individualized approach because everyone's needs are different. So while your friend may be feeling better two months after their diagnosis, it may take you longer to feel similarly.

The best way to monitor your postpartum depression, Dr. Basch says, is by paying attention to the reduction in the intensity, severity, and duration of your symptoms.

If you’re feeling motivated to return to activities you once enjoyed, this is a good indicator that your mental health has improved. Because depression can change day by day, it’s important to keep track of your symptoms and check in with your doctor or therapist to make sure your treatment plan is working effectively.

When Depression Goes Undiagnosed

If postpartum depression goes undiagnosed, it can continue for months or years, long past the one-year postpartum period.

A 2020 study of more than 4,500 women found that 5% of those studied reported persistently high levels of postpartum depression symptoms for three years after giving birth. These results suggested that women may still need screenings for maternal depression after the postpartum period ends.

“I've seen a patient many years after having a child whose depressive symptoms originated postpartum, and they were never treated,” says Dr. Basch. In that case, even although they were out of the postpartum period, their diagnosis would be considered postpartum depression.

The good news is that postpartum depression is highly treatable, and the length of a postpartum depressive episode is shortened with prompt treatment, Dr. Basch explains.

Emma Basch, PsyD

If a patient is at risk for developing postpartum depression, engaging in preventative care can shorten or even eliminate the development of postpartum depression symptoms.

— Emma Basch, PsyD

Managing Postpartum Depression

“Postpartum depression can be made worse by poor sleep, lack of social support or family support, isolation, and stigma,” says Dr. Basch.

Life after childbirth, depending on your situation, can be emotionally difficult. Even if you're feeling excited and overjoyed by the presence of your new child, you can still experience postpartum depression. 

In addition to getting treatment, you can work on improving your sleep, eating nutritious meals, scheduling time for activities you enjoy, and asking for help from loved ones or community members. There are also support groups for parents experiencing postpartum depression.

Taking care of your health and mental health is critical, especially as a parent. The best thing you can do during this time is to give yourself grace.

A Word From Verywell

Many parents experience postpartum depression, but it’s easily treatable. If your doctor does not screen you, make sure you notify them of your symptoms right away. 

If your postpartum depression is worsening, even with treatment, or if you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming your child, 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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