- Postpartum depression usually lasts for the first six months after the baby’s birth, and 25% to 50% of people experience it beyond six months after birth.
- Postpartum depression can afflict biological moms and dads as well as adoptive parents, and researchers have found that you’re 2.5 times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression if your partner is experiencing it.
- If you’re worried that you have postpartum depression, the first and most important step that doctors recommend is to contact your obstetrician or midwife immediately.
If you’re like most women, you’ll probably experience some form of temporary depression within the first couple of weeks after giving birth. That’s because your levels of estrogen and progesterone are dropping quickly, which can trigger mood swings.
This form of mild, short-lived depression is normal. What’s not normal is if your depressed mood continues for months, or even years, after birth. This means you likely have a case of postpartum depression, and it should be taken seriously. Here’s what you need to know.
Postpartum depression usually lasts 6 months
Postpartum depression can start during pregnancy and last anywhere from a couple of weeks to years after birth. While most people recover from it within the first six months, an estimated 25% to 50% of people experience it for longer.
“Anyone experiencing symptoms longer than two weeks needs to talk to their physician or therapist to assess for postpartum depression,” says Kristin Edwards, PhD, Psychology Fellow at Tampa Pediatric Psychology.
The causes of postpartum depression are unique for each person. However, there are common risk factors:
- A history of anxiety and depression
- A history of moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome
- Negative attitude towards pregnancy
- Recent difficult life events
- History of sexual abuse
- Low self-esteem
- Risky pregnancy such as emergency cesarean or hospitalization during pregnancy
- Postpartum complications such as prolapse
- Low infant birth weight of your baby, under 3.3 pounds
- Expectations for the birth that did not occur, such as the desire for natural delivery that resulted in a cesarean birth
- History of insomnia or insomnia during pregnancy
Moms and dads can get postpartum depression
Approximately 10% to 15% of new mothers will experience clinical postpartum depression. But it’s not just women. Men can experience postpartum depression, too.
Researchers have found that you’re 2.5 times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression if your partner is experiencing it. This might help explain why an estimated 4% to 25% of new fathers suffer postpartum depression in the first two months after their child’s birth.
Postpartum depression can also affect non-biological parents. A 2011 study published in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health reported that 8% of adoptive mothers in the study experienced symptoms of depression compared to 16.5% of biological mothers. The adoptive mothers also reported less anxiety and greater well-being overall.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
Edwards says that common symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Gloomy mood
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep problems
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low interest in plans or activities that the mother used to find enjoying
Other symptoms, according to the National Institute of Maternal Health, are:
- Hopelessness, sadness, or feeling overwhelmed or empty
- Socially withdrawing from friends and family
- Lack of emotional attachment or bonding with your baby
- Thoughts of self-harm or of harming your baby
- For a full list of symptoms visit the National Institute of Maternal Health
How to treat postpartum depression
If you’re worried that you have postpartum depression, the first and most important step that doctors recommend is to contact your obstetrician or midwife immediately. They can screen you and determine the next steps toward treatment.
“Social support can be a huge protective factor for postpartum depression,” says Edwards. “With regard to specific evidence-based psychotherapeutic treatment approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy have the most support.”
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that is considered the current gold-standard in psychotherapy for treating depression. It’s been proven to help treat all types of depression including postpartum depression.
Breastfeeding has also been shown to help reduce postpartum depression. A 2014 study published in Psychological Medicine reported that women who exclusively breastfed their newborns in the first three months after giving birth reported fewer symptoms of depression than women who did not. However, you should not use breastfeeding as a form of self-treatment for postpartum depression.
If therapy doesn’t help, consider taking antidepressants. It can take time to find the right type of antidepressant for you. So, if your depression worsens or the side effects last, speak to your doctor about trying another medication.
Moreover, if you take antidepressants, you can often still breastfeed. Some medications can transfer to your baby during breastfeeding, but the amount is minimal. Discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.