Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/27/2021
Depressed is not the way any mother wants to feel the first months after giving birth, and yet for a decent portion of new mothers — between 10 percent and 20 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control — postpartum depression is their reality.
It’s a tough time, between the stress and new responsibilities, to have to care about yourself, to lose motivation and to feel so down.
With the hours of sleep already in the red and energy levels constantly sapped, post-pregnancy can make the throes of depression feel even more endless, leading to the question: exactly how damn long is this going to last?
Postpartum depression isn’t a simple set-your-clock condition, however, and a lot of factors can influence whether you get it, how soon you get it and how long you have to fight it.
Before we go any further though, we need to answer the question of what postpartum depression is.
Postpartum depression is actually one of two forms of a condition called perinatal depression.
According to the National Institutes of Health, perinatal depression is a “mood disorder that can affect women during pregnancy and after childbirth.”
Perinatal depression encompasses depression developed during pregnancy (prenatal depression) and depression that can occur after delivery (postpartum depression).
Neither prenatal or postpartum depression have a specific cause, but they are not caused by the mother, or her actions. Genetic and environmental factors along with life stress can contribute to the condition.
Research suggests that postpartum depression may be related to hormone changes that occur after delivery. Postpartum depression occurs in up to 15 percent of births.
Postpartum depression should not be confused with “baby blues,” which can be seen within the first two weeks after delivery, when the new mom experiences mild mood changes, sadness, feelings of worry and exhaustion
The symptoms, though, largely keep with general depression (read more about the types of depression on our blog).
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is a mood disorder characterized by feeling down, low or sad for a sustained period of time, with those feelings impacting your life.
There are many lifestyle, biological, and genetic factors that can cause depression, as well as psychological ones.
Symptoms range from low self esteem and lack of motivation, to exhaustion, irritability and anger.
Sleep loss, motivation problems and reckless activity may increase, and you may lose interest in things you once enjoyed.
Other symptoms can include stomach issues, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
Strictly speaking, postpartum depression is like many depression types, in that it can be diagnosed after experiencing more than two weeks of unhappiness.
This might make it hard to tell the difference between postpartum depression and a condition called the baby blues, which is typically just an effect of the exhaustion, anxiety and worry some women may feel in the first two weeks after giving birth.
Still, two weeks is not the vulnerability window.
Typically, screening for symptoms will be continued for up to six months after birth. The truth is that when it starts and when it goes away varies significantly from mother to mother.
As for how long it can last, well, the answer varies.
According to the NIH, studies show that as many as five percent of women may report persistent symptoms up to three years after delivery.
Understanding your mental health history and your risk can help with estimating your chances of developing postpartum depression, but only screening after birth is really going to help you know if and when it appears.
If it does, you’ll need support in the form of treatment.
Postpartum is the same as other forms of depression, and has a variety of treatment options that include medications, therapy and others.
As with other forms of depression, antidepressants, lifestyle changes and therapeutic practices are your friends.
Medication for postpartum depression. One of the most effective and safe treatments available (yes, even for pregnant women) are antidepressants, which regulate depression by affecting how your neurons interact and changing the serotonin levels in your brain.
All antidepressants on the market are generally considered safe and effective, and are typically differentiated by their side effects.
According to a comprehensive review that looked at 66 studies, the most effective medications for depression are tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) .
TCAs keep the supply of serotonin in your brain elevated. SSRIs leave more serotonin in the system by blocking serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons.
There are several antidepressants on the market, and they carry a variety of side effects, so you’ll want to talk to a healthcare professional or your OB-GYN before deciding on whether medication is the correct choice for you.
Be sure to share whatever medications you may already be taking with your healthcare provider.
Finding the right one for you may also take a couple of tries.
Therapy provides an environment for talking through the problems, fears and thoughts that create the depression you suffer from. It provides a way to reframe and counteract the negative thoughts.
One of the best therapy forms by modern standards is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which teaches you to recognize and reorder disordered thought patterns.
There are active therapeutic practices as well, like meditation, which has been shown to be effective, especially when practiced with mindfulness in mind.
You might have other therapies recommended when you speak to a mental health professional, so make an appointment and find out what the world has to offer.
It’s hard to have much control over your lifestyle postpartum — we get that. There are some things, however, that you can make sure you’re doing when possible to reduce your depression symptoms and risk.
One of the first things you should do is talk with your healthcare provider about any down feelings you’ve had.
They may have more suggestions for how to change lifestyle and habits to help your efforts.
Common lifestyle influences for depression include health, weight, diet, blood pressure and habits — all things you’ve been closely monitoring all along anyway.
But a healthcare provider may help with strategies, or give you guidance on exercise and diet, which science shows can be as effective in fighting depression as medication.
If you’re seeing the signs of postpartum depression in yourself or in a loved one, it’s good that you’ve taken the first steps to learn more.
If you have more questions (and you probably do), check out our Guide to Postpartum Depression to learn more about the causes, treatments, and symptoms.
The next step for anyone struggling with depression, postpartum or otherwise, is to seek help.
A mental healthcare provider will be able to talk through what you’ve been experiencing, what troubles it is causing you, and set you on a promising course of treatment.
If you’re ready to take that step, Hers offers online therapy and you contact a mental health professional for personalized advice and treatment.