A Timeline for When Postpartum Depression Can Start and End

From during pregnancy to a year after giving birth, here's when postpartum depression symptoms can start and how long they can last.

Three months after the birth of her first child, Shoshana Bennett went to her OB, desperate for help. "If life is going to be like this, I don't want to be here anymore," she told him.

The year was 1983, and the medical profession's understanding of the severe depression that affects 1 out of 7 postpartum parents was limited. "He laughed and said, 'All new mothers feel this way. Go do something nice for yourself and it will pass,'" she recalls.

Now a clinical psychologist, that visit marked what would become Dr. Bennett's years-long struggle with postpartum depression (PPD), prompting the special education teacher to return to school and earn a Ph.D. in psychology. She's since helped pioneer the field of maternal mental health, publishing four books on the subject, including Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety, offering courses to parents, caregivers, and family members, and speaking on the topic around the world to help parents cope with persistent feelings of emptiness and sadness brought on by the mood disorder.

Doctors have come a long way towards understanding, assessing, and treating postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health disorders that can occur, but there is still more that needs to be done. For instance, not all people may be aware that postpartum depression can actually start anytime in your baby's first year of life—or that, as Dr. Bennett experienced, it can last for years.

PPD can also raise your risk of other types of mental health disorders later in life too. Here's more about what pregnant people, postpartum parents, and caregivers should know about how to recognize and get help for PPD, no matter what time it may hit.

mother holding crying baby close to chest
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When Does Postpartum Depression Start?

Postpartum depression can begin shortly before giving birth and in many cases, depression can actually begin during pregnancy as well. In fact, anyone with symptoms of depression or anxiety before or during pregnancy has an increased risk of PPD.

Importantly, PPD isn't just something that very new parents can experience. It can also start anywhere and anytime during your child's first year of life.

"Any symptom that may arise postpartum can begin in pregnancy," says Dr. Bennett—or kick in as late as one-year post delivery. "In my case, once the placenta was delivered, I plummeted into a deep severe state of depression."

Though there's no singular cause for PPD, experts believe a steep drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone following childbirth may be to blame, kickstarting depression in the same way smaller hormonal changes prompt premenstrual mood changes.

On average, PPD usually begins in the first 3 weeks after having a baby, according to ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Pregnant people who are at increased risk for developing PPD—such as those with a history of depression, PMS or PMDD—may want to look out for the first signs and symptoms and keep in mind the average timeline for postpartum depression.

Additionally, it's helpful to prep your partner or any other support people in your life to ensure they are aware of the signs and symptoms of PPD so they can advocate getting you help should you need it. It's often very difficult for someone in the thick of PPD to recognize that they need help and reach out for help, so it's crucial that others be aware of what is normal and what is not.

How Long Can Postpartum Depression Last?

"I started to regain myself when my daughter was 2-and-half years old," says Dr. Bennett. "My hair started to curl again, and I started to taste food and see color again.

Postpartum depression can improve quickly with professional treatment, but it usually doesn't resolve on its own. If left untreated, PPD has the potential to become a long-term condition.

Research suggests that the longer a postpartum parent suffers from PPD after giving birth, the more likely they are to experience chronic depression. For instance, a 2018 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that the majority of those who suffered from severe depression at 2 and 8 months postpartum continued to experience symptoms of depression more than 10 years later.

"As with any disorder, the sooner PPD gets treated the better the prognosis is for mom and the entire family," says Dr. Bennett.

Postpartum Depression Timeline in Partners and Adoptive Parents

Around 8 to 10% of fathers in heterogeneous relationships experience postpartum depression, and in fathers particularly, the disorder may strike later during the first year of their baby's life. In gay fathers, the incidence is even higher in the limited amount of studies that have been done, around 12%.

Postpartum parents who have histories that include sexual partners of different genders also appear to have a higher risk of developing PPD, according to at least one study done in Canada. And while there is a severe lack of research on the mental health experiences of trans and non-binary pregnant and postpartum parents, a 2021 study review in the International Journal of Transgender Health noted that common themes of visibility and isolation many trans and non-binary people experience point to a possible higher risk of PPD as well.

Adoptive parents can also experience a form of postpartum depression, often referred to as post-adoption depression.

In partners and among parents that have not given birth, PPD can be caused by sleep deprivation and many other factors—"but obviously not by reproductive hormones, as it often does in women," says Bennett—and may result in anger, withdrawal, and feelings of overwhelm or neglect.

"PPD is very relational in how it impacts couples," says Brandon Eddy, Ph.D., marriage and family therapist and assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that men whose partners have PPD are more likely to suffer from PPD themselves, experiencing it at an increased rate of between 24 to 50%.

The postpartum timeline for partners can be very similar to that of the postpartum parent. "The first few weeks are a difficult adjustment for both parents, but if people find themselves still really struggling and depressed after that then they should seek treatment immediately," says Dr. Eddy. "PPD is only going to get worse without treatment."

Finding the Right PPD Treatment for You

The most effective treatment for PPD is a combination of psychotherapy and medication, says Dr. Eddy, but she adds that parents who are opposed to taking antidepressants shouldn't let that keep them away. Many other therapies, such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and group therapy can be effective as well. "Not all patients need medication," she says.

Bennett also emphasizes the importance of working with a practitioner who specializes in maternal mental health if possible. But of course, if you don't have access to a mental health professional who works with postpartum parents, a great place to start is simply by talking to your pregnancy care provider.

Many pregnancy care providers are trained to provide the basics in postpartum mental health support, but even if they cannot help you personally, they should have resources they can point you to. And if for some reason, your provider fails you, there are services available online.

For instance, you can call the Postpartum Support International (PSI) helpline at 1-800-944-4773, chat with a mental health professional (no need to register or even provide your name) or send a text to 503-894-9453 for free and confidential support. PSI also offers a directory for you to find a trained provider near you, connect with a local peer mentor, or join an online support group.

And remember, while it can feel challenging to take steps for yourself when you're already dealing with so much as a new parent, a huge part of taking care of your baby is making sure you are as physically and mentally healthy as possible too. So reach out for help if you are struggling, because it's not just important for you, it's important for your family as well.

"There's no better gift to your child than a happy, healthy, grounded parent," says Dr. Bennett.

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