There’s a lot of confusion out there about postpartum depression. Unfortunately, it’s still a fairly taboo topic for many people, which leads to a lack of awareness and understanding from all parties — not just new mothers. But, with postpartum depression affecting about 1 in 7 new mothers, it’s more important than ever for the right information to be shared.
Because of the misconception about postpartum depression, mothers may not fully recognize the signs of postpartum depression when it affects them. They may think their postpartum depression timing is wrong: that it has come on too late, lasted too long, or otherwise doesn’t fit their idea of a typical postpartum depression “onset.”
So, when does postpartum depression start and end? What should everyone know about postpartum depression length and timing?
The best way to learn more about postpartum depression is by talking to a medical professional. They are the only person who can evaluate your potential postpartum depression timing and provide a clinical diagnose, if necessary. While the information found in the article below can be helpful if you are curious about postpartum depression, it should not be taken as medical advice or as a way to diagnose yourself.
Now, the answers to the biggest questions people have about postpartum depression timing:
1. When Does Postpartum Depression Start?
By definition, postpartum depression begins after a woman has given birth. Most cases of postpartum depression occur within the first four to six weeks after giving birth, but there are situations in which postpartum depression begins much earlier or much later than this timeframe.
It’s very common for women to be emotionally overwhelmed during the first few days after pregnancy. After all, they often have to adjust to a brand new routine while they are simultaneously recovering from the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy and childbirth, and the growing list of responsibilities is enough to make any woman anxious. In most cases, however, these feelings can be attributed to the normal “baby blues,” which usually go away within a few weeks once a mother gets used to her new reality. But, if the thoughts are more serious or the side effects last for more than two weeks, it’s more likely that what she is experiencing is postpartum depression.
Still, a doctor likely will not diagnose postpartum depression within the first few days of delivery unless a mother is having serious thoughts of hurting herself or her baby, or her side effects are interfering with her ability to care for herself and her child. This is why the majority of diagnoses of postpartum depression onset occur a few weeks after a baby is born.
Sometimes, women ask, “When does postpartum depression occur?” because they are having feelings of sadness while they are still pregnant. While this would not technically be considered “postpartum” depression, it is still a situation that requires attention. If you are experiencing depression while you are still pregnant, please reach out to your doctor and support system to familiarize yourself with the options available to you.
2. Is There Such a Thing as Late-Onset Postpartum Depression?
Because most women imagine postpartum depression as something that occurs shortly after a baby is born, they often become concerned when symptoms of depression start appearing long after their childbirth experience — usually months or weeks after. So, they ask, “How late can postpartum depression occur?”
While postpartum depression onset is most common in the first three months after childbirth, it is possible that the mood disorder can develop up to a year after delivery. There is no hard and fast rule about the time frame for delayed postpartum depression. However, if you are experiencing depression more than a year after your baby is born, it is more likely that your emotions are a symptom of previously untreated depression or a manifestation of new changes in your life at that time.
As always, it’s important to contact your medical professional if you think you are experiencing any degree of late-onset postpartum depression.
3. How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
Every woman’s experience with postpartum depression will be slightly different. While the normal “baby blues” after pregnancy usually go away within a few weeks after birth, postpartum depression has the potential to last for much longer.
So, how long can postpartum depression last?
By definition, postpartum depression must last at least two weeks to be clinically diagnosable. In a long-range study on postpartum depression by the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, postpartum depression lasted much longer for many women. In women who received medical care, 50 percent still experienced depression for more than one year after childbirth. In women who did not receive clinical treatment, 30 percent were still depressed up to three years after giving birth.
Clearly, how long postpartum depression can last after having a baby can be much longer than expected. If left untreated, there is the potential for postpartum depression to last forever, although this is a rare occurrence. Like with any mood disorder, treatment is key to decreasing the postpartum depression length that a new mother experiences.
4. Does Postpartum Depression Go Away?
Women who are unfamiliar with the realities of the baby blues and postpartum depression may believe that it’s a short-lived condition that won’t affect their life in the long term. So, instead of seeing a doctor right away, they live with their untreated postpartum depression in the hopes that it will eventually get better on its own.
While there is the possibility that postpartum depression resolves itself, it’s much more likely that, when left untreated, it could turn into a chronic major depression for the rest of a woman’s life. It can affect a woman’s relationship with her newborn child if she is parenting, in turn affecting that child’s cognitive and behavioral development in the years to come. That’s not even mentioning the potential that postpartum depression has to affect marriages, relationships and more.
So, in most cases, no — postpartum depression does not go away on its own. If you are experiencing symptoms of this mood disorder, you should contact your doctor straight away for treatment recommendations and to learn more about what options are available to you.
5. Can Postpartum Depression Come and Go?
Like with any kind of depression, the symptoms of postpartum depression don’t always have to be constant. This can be confusing for some women and may well be a reason that many women don’t seek out medical attention for their depression. One minute, a woman may wish she had never had her baby and is exhausted by the idea of raising her child to 18; the next, she may be thrilled about the future awaiting her with her child. Similarly, a woman who has placed her child for adoption may experience joy and sadness about her decision at different times in her life.
The aforementioned Harvard study has shown that 38 percent of women who experience postpartum depression experience chronic symptoms. For other women who leave their postpartum depression untreated, periods of depressive emotions may come and go, influencing their ability to safely and positive parent their child.
If you are asking, “Can postpartum depression last for years?” it may be because you are experiencing sadness about your current situation. You may find yourself wishing your baby had never been born, or that you could escape your situation. This is why it’s so important that you see a medical professional right away; they can provide the treatment you may need. If your side effects are not a symptom of postpartum depression, you may consider other options, such as temporary guardianship or adoption, to allow yourself space and a chance to reevaluate your position as a mother.
Whatever questions you have about postpartum depression timing, we encourage you to contact your local medical professional for more information. They are always the best one to answer your questions about depression you’re feeling after childbirth to get you the help you need.