New mothers experience anxiety, tearfulness, and mood swings in the weeks following childbirth. If a new mom is persistently in a low mood, it could indicate postpartum depression (1). Unlike baby blues, postpartum depression is much more severe and requires immediate professional help.
Postpartum depression is still a taboo subject in our society, and many women struggle to talk about it for fear of being judged and considered a bad mom. But it is a mental health condition that can be resolved with prompt treatment.
The symptoms relating to the condition can arise anytime within a month or a year after delivery. According to a report, it affects 1 in 9 women (2). In this article, we list down the symptoms and risk factors of postpartum depression, how long it lasts, and effective treatment measures that can be taken.
How Long Does It Last?
Most people mistake postpartum depression with baby blues. While baby blues is a feeling of fatigue, sadness, and anxiety that affects about 80% of new mothers, it usually goes away within a week. But if the persistent feeling of sadness or emptiness lasts for more than 2 weeks, it could be a sign of postpartum depression. And if treatment is not offered, it could last months and even years (3).
A research that reviewed several studies that dealt with risk factors that increase the risk of postpartum depression in some women compared to others found that the symptoms decreased over time in most cases. However, it also found that 38% of mothers experiencing postpartum depression had chronic symptoms over time.
The results also revealed that around 50% of women who were being treated for postpartum depression continued to have symptoms for over a year after giving birth.
But out of those, 30% of women who had postpartum depression but were not receiving medical care had ongoing symptoms that lasted up to 3 years of childbirth.
Risk Factors That Contribute To Long Term Depression
Postpartum depression can happen to any woman and does not reflect poorly on mothers. However, there are some factors that increase the risk of postpartum depression in women. These include (4):
- Depression that was present before childbirth
- History of depression or bipolar disorder
- Family history of mental illness or depression
- Mixed feelings about pregnancy
- Medical complications that occurred during the time of giving birth
- Unsupportive partner or loved ones
- If the child is born with a health condition
- Preterm birth
- Having gone through stressful events during the time of pregnancy, such as job loss, domestic violence, or bereavement.
There could be several factors that cause long term postpartum depression in women; researchers, however, were able to identify a few. Researchers found that for women suffering through long term postpartum depression, it is most often a continuation of their preexisting depression. Stress, a history of abuse, and a poor relationship with husband/partner were some of the other factors that seemed to play a role.
- Irritability and anxiety
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or guilty
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty making decisions and focusing
- Thoughts of harming oneself or the baby
- Feeling angry and restless
- Feeling exhausted
- Difficulty bonding or taking care of the baby
- Isolating from family and friends
- Loss of appetite
While several self-care tips such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep could help you manage the symptoms, it’s important to consult a doctor so that they can decide the right course of treatment for you. Below we list down some of the treatment measures that may be offered by your doctor (7) (8):
Antidepressants are known to manage symptoms of depression. Depending upon each individual, the doctor may prescribe a dosage that may take about 6 to 8 weeks to work. If you are breastfeeding, the doctor will brief you about the risks of the medication entering breast milk or other side effects of the medication. Your doctor may also ask you to continue the medication for about 6 to 12 months.
Psychotherapy, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is a course of treatment suggested for moderate cases of postpartum depression. The therapy aims to find different ways of approach to encourage a positive way of thinking. Interpersonal therapy is a way of approach that focuses on improving communication skills and developing social networks to make it easier for a person to face the challenges ahead of him/her.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation:
In this treatment method, the doctor will use magnetic waves to activate nerve cells. It is a non-invasive form of treatment that is safe for breastfeeding mothers as well. Your doctor might suggest this treatment for about 4 to 6 weeks.
If the other treatments don’t seem to work and the symptoms become severe, your doctor might suggest electroconvulsive therapy. Alternative therapies that help relieve the symptoms of postpartum depression also include acupuncture, massage, bright light therapy, and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
Postpartum depression can happen to any woman and can affect the bond between a mother and baby. If left untreated, the situation can get worse and even continue for a long time. Hence, it is important to seek medical care and be open and honest about your feelings to your partner or loved ones.