When you are pregnant, and for several weeks following birth, your body goes through major changes that impact your hormones and can result in physical and emotional changes.
While most mothers are elated at the birth of a child, others can experience apathy, withdrawal, and depression. New moms may not want to be near, or struggle to feel a connection to their newborn. These can all be symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD).
Postpartum depression affects 1 in 8 people with vaginas after a live birth and is thought to be due to the rollercoaster of hormonal changes within your body. It is important that if you notice any symptoms, you seek medical treatment right away to avoid depression worsening.
In this article, we will discuss postpartum depressive symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatment, and when to seek medical attention.
How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
According to a review of clinical studies, those with postpartum depression usually start exhibiting symptoms within three months after giving birth. If left untreated, it can turn into a long-term issue.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in eight people with vaginas are affected by postpartum depression symptoms, while the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) reports that almost 15% of people with vaginas experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
This is not to be confused with the “baby blues,” which are feelings of sadness, fatigue, and anxiety that follow giving birth and usually last three to five days.
Baby blues affect a staggering 80% of people after having a baby and can often be mistaken for PPD, but the two are not the same.
Symptoms of postpartum depression usually interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her baby or complete daily tasks. It can take six to eight weeks for new moms to recover fully; in some cases, it could last a lot longer, especially if it is not treated.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Symptoms of postpartum depression will affect every mother in different ways. For some, they may last longer, occur more often, or feel more intense. There is no specific formula.
Symptoms can be similar to clinical depression but may also include the following:
- Crying more frequently than usual
- Withdrawing from loved ones and retreating from social interactions
- Feeling numb or apathetic toward the baby
- Feeling angry or guilty toward the baby
- Worrying that you will hurt the baby, or are not equipped to take care of the baby.
These may be experienced along with depression symptoms, such as:
- Consistent sad, anxious, or numb mood
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that once brought joy
- Problems concentrating, recalling events, and making decisions
- Feeling hopeless and pessimistic about the future
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Feelings of irritability or restlessness
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide
Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery and is characterized by severe, often shocking mood shifts.
Signs and symptoms can present similar to baby blues and postpartum depression, but what sets them apart is the following:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Rapid mood swings that resemble bipolar disorder
- Obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Hallucinations, delusions, and sleep disturbances
- Excessive energy and agitation
- Paranoid thoughts
- Thoughts of harming the baby, or wishing the baby was dead
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
The behavior demonstrated can be seen as a sudden departure from the mother’s typical demeanor. It can lead to life-threatening thoughts and behaviors.
If any of the above signs and symptoms are present, consult a mental health professional immediately. If you are experiencing thoughts of killing or harming yourself or the baby, free and confidential crisis resources are available to help 24/7. Call or text 988, or chat 988lifeline.org.
If you are in serious danger of harming yourself or the baby, call 911.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
There is no single cause of PPD. It can affect new moms with healthy pregnancies and childbirths just as much as those with complications. However, physical and emotional issues can play a role.
Physical changes: Postpartum depression can be caused by a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) after giving birth. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland may also drop sharply. These sudden changes can leave you feeling tired, lethargic, anxious, and depressed.
Emotional problems: Sleep deprivation and feelings of being overwhelmed can affect a mother’s well-being and their ability to care for a newborn. The lack of sleep, anxiety and increased stress can leave moms feeling less attractive, less capable, and even regretful about their decision to have a baby. This can sometimes lead to postpartum depression.
Any mother can get postpartum depression regardless of whether they had a healthy pregnancy or birth. However, certain factors can increase the risk of postpartum depression. These include:
- Having depression before or during pregnancy
- History of bipolar disorder or depression
- A family member who has been diagnosed with depression or mental illness
- Lack of social support
- Stressful life events around the time of pregnancy, such as domestic violence, bereavement, illness, or job loss
- Medical complications during the delivery
- Delivering multiple babies
- Preterm birth or a child with a health condition
- Mixed feelings about the pregnancy
- Being a teen mom
- History of drug or substance abuse
Treatment for Postpartum Depression
Treatment can vary depending on an individual’s severity of symptoms, their medical history, and any underlying illnesses. Typically, a person with PPD is treated with psychotherapy (also referred to as talk therapy), medication, or both.
Therapy has been proven highly effective in helping mothers with postpartum depression talk through their concerns with a psychologist, or other mental health professional.
Therapy offers a safe space for individuals to learn better ways to cope with their feelings, find better reactions to stressors, and set goals. Your health care provider may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has proven effective in treating depressive symptoms.
These SSRIs have been studied for their ability to help alleviate symptoms.
Medication can enter your breast milk, although antidepressants tend to have very few side effects for your baby. Discuss with your doctor the potential risks and benefits of specific antidepressants to determine if this is the right treatment for you.
When to See a Medical Provider
In some cases, postpartum depression can turn into major depression. It’s important you speak with a medical provider if you notice in yourself or a loved one any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, especially if it extends beyond two weeks.
If you have been given treatment such as antidepressants, do not stop taking the medication even if you feel better. Discuss any medication changes with your doctor first.
If you are experiencing thoughts of killing or harming yourself or the baby, free and confidential crisis resources such as calling 911 or texting 988 are available to help 24/7.
PPD can affect the early relationship between a mother and child. This is why symptoms must be treated as early as they are noticed.
The sooner you get help, the sooner you will feel fully equipped to care for your new baby.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Depression Among Women. (2022).
Postpartum depression may last for years. (2020).
The Course of Postpartum Depression. (2014).