How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

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Baby Blues vs. Post Partum Depression

As many as 80% of women will experience the “baby blues” while an estimated 15-20% will experience postpartum depression. The “blues” are not the same as depression, nor are they a precursor to depression or a “lighter” form of depression.

The blues can last from a few hours to a few days and can take many forms, just as “moodiness” can take many forms. Symptoms of the blues include irritability, tearfulness, lack of concentration, and of course feelings of sadness or of being overwhelmed. These feelings are not severe, do not significantly hinder day-to-day life, and do not require treatment.

Depression, on the other hand, may include the same symptoms as the blues as well as disturbed appetite (being overly hungry or not hungry), sleep disturbance (sleeping less or more than normal), memory problems, feelings of worthlessness, guilt or emptiness, increased anger or frustration, thoughts of death, withdrawing from friends and family, and loss of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed.

These symptoms are more severe, hamper day-to-day life, can last up to a year or more, and often require treatment.

How long Does Post Partum Depression Last? Risk Factors and Treatment

To answer the question “how long does post partum depression last?” requires an examination of several other factors: 1) the presence of risk factors and 2) how soon treatment is sought.

Some women are more at risk of developing postpartum depression than others. Risk factors include:

A history of depression

  • Formula feeding rather than breast feeding
  • Smoking
  • Stressful life changes within the previous year
  • Lack of support
  • Financial difficulties
  • Marital problems
  • Being a single parent
  • The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.

The first three of these risk factors are the most significant and seem to be additive, so if you do have a history of depression and smoke, you might want to reconsider formula feeding. If you could quit smoking, that would of course help even more. The more risk factors present, the greater the chance the depression will last longer.

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself, or if you are a friend or family member of a new mother or father who you are concerned about, seek assistance. For mothers, start with your doctor. Tell your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing and your concern that it might be more serious than the blues. Your doctor will be able to provide you with resources, either by seeking consultation or by making a referral to an appropriate treatment provider. Treatment would likely include counseling, but may also require medication. Postpartum support groups could also be a useful tool in treating depression, depending on severity of symptoms.

And don’t forget about fathers: because much more focus is placed on mothers after pregnancy, many fathers with postpartum depression will go unnoticed and untreated. For men the prognosis and treatment are basically the same, starting with your doctor or medical provider.

If you seek help, postpartum depression can be dealt with. The most important point to remember about postpartum depression is that it is very treatable and the prognosis is good. Left untreated it can last for months or even years.

Just don’t let yourself suffer needlessly any longer than necessary. Get help as soon as you can.