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If you are like most women, you may experience temporary depression within the first couple of days or weeks after giving birth. This is because your progesterone and estrogen levels are dropping quickly, causing you to develop mood swings. While this mild, short-lived form of depression is perfectly normal in new mothers, it sometimes grows in severity and lingers for months or even years. Known as postpartum depression (PPD), such a condition is serious and must be dealt with as soon as possible.

The recovery times for postpartum depression vary from mother to mother, and symptoms are very unlikely to resolve independently. If untreated, many continue to suffer from this uncomfortable mental health issue for years. Since PPD can drastically impact the health of both mother and baby, getting timely help is critical before the problem prolongs.

Mother with post-partum depression in a green field with her baby

Having a baby can be a challenging and highly emotional time. Almost every mother goes through the typical baby blues, including occasionally feeling fatigued, losing appetite, or having crying spells, for a few weeks at maximum. However, if these feelings occupy you at all times and persist for an extended period, it might indicate an underlying postpartum depression.

The onset of PPD usually occurs between two to six weeks following childbirth. However, some people may experience it for the first time, even six months after birth. Hence, experts suggest getting regular screenings for timely diagnosis and management during this vulnerable time.

The duration of PPD depends on a woman’s past mental health history and how quickly she seeks treatment for her current issue. Seeking timely help from psychotherapy or medication significantly shortens the duration of PPD for many. Different treatment options are available to minimize the duration of PPD symptoms as much as possible. These treatment options are explained in detail in the following sections.

Postpartum Depression Timeline

The signs and symptoms of PPD may vary with time, and there is no standard timeline to categorize these symptoms as such. However, many women undergo similar changes weeks and months after childbirth. These changes are explained below in accordance with their time of appearance:

One to Six Months Postpartum

This timeframe is when most women experience the early symptoms of postpartum depression. These early symptoms primarily include minimal sleep and severe mood swings. A healthcare professional may screen mothers exhibiting these symptoms to diagnose if they have baby blues or PPD.

Six Months to One Year Postpartum

At this stage, women with baby blues get back to feeling like their true selves, but those with PPD continue to experience mood swings. Most women are likely to seek help for their symptoms during this stage, which includes medication, therapy, and self-care measures like yoga or meditation.

One to Four Years Postpartum

By this stage, some women continue treatment as they experience PPD symptoms for years following childbirth. Others have gone into remission and might be planning to have another child. It is important for the latter to discuss the incidence of PPD in their last pregnancy with a doctor before conceiving. Doing so can give the doctor ample time to design and implement specific preventive strategies while constantly monitoring them for symptoms throughout and after pregnancy.

Remember, the course of postpartum depression and its duration of symptoms are different for everyone. However, the sooner you recognize it and seek help, the quicker you can enter into recovery.

If you are currently struggling with postpartum depression, it is possible to recover from it with appropriate treatment. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can expect to overcome the issue and return to feeling like yourself. At present, there are multiple treatment options for individuals experiencing postpartum depression. Many experts combine more than one treatment modality at a time to provide comprehensive care and aid in recovery. For instance, you may enroll in counseling sessions while taking medications simultaneously. Many may go through trial and error to find the treatment that best suits them.

Mentioned below are some common treatments used for managing postpartum depression. Work with your healthcare provider to determine which makes more sense for you and can benefit you the most.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is often one of the first lines of treatment options offered to people with mild to moderate forms of PPD. Two forms of psychotherapy are beneficial in this respect, including:

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)

IPT focuses on interpersonal distress as the primary factor aggravating depression. The therapy has been highly successful and has shown consistent positive outcomes with patients.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients identify how their thoughts relate to their behaviors and help them replace all negative thinking patterns with positive ones.

  • Nondirective counseling

In this type of counseling, the therapist avoids explaining the issue at hand or interpreting it. Instead, they allow patients to talk freely without pressure about their feelings and struggles, followed by self-affirmations.

The most important thing to consider with psychotherapy is finding a qualified therapist with whom you can easily bond. You may need to get in touch with a few of these professionals before deciding the one that works best for you. Consider asking your family members, friends, and primary healthcare professionals for recommendations to make the process faster and easier.

Medication

People who do not respond to psychotherapy can switch to medication to manage postpartum depression. There are many types of antidepressants that these individuals can use to reduce the severity and duration of their symptoms. A commonly used category of antidepressant is serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which include fluoxetine and sertraline. Some people may require an anti-anxiety medication, especially if their symptoms are falling more on the anxiety end of the spectrum.

If your PPD began within four weeks following childbirth and you are still under six months postpartum, you may benefit from an intravenous infusion of brexanolone. Depending on their symptoms, some people may require additional treatment with antipsychotic medicines or mood stabilizers.

If you have been suffering from postpartum depression for some time, it affects you and your baby, your partner, family members, and friends. Keep in mind that none of this is your fault which is why it is always a good idea to seek treatment and shorten the duration of these symptoms as soon as possible.

Consider asking for help for yourself and your relationships, including those with:

  • Your partner

If you have become isolated or withdrawn due to PPD, your relationship with your partner will likely suffer. As per the American Academy of Pediatrics, the partner of a person with PPD is twice as likely to develop the condition too.

  • Your friends and family members

Your family members and friends may notice that you are going through a difficult time, but most do not know how to help you. This distance may exaggerate the feelings of loneliness for you.

  • Your children

PPD can also affect your relationship and attachment with your baby. In addition to negatively impacting how you physically take care of your child, postpartum depression may also affect how you bond with them. It may even damage the relationship you have with your older children. A child may also experience certain difficulties due to untreated PPD, including

  • Delays in language development and learning
  • Stress and agitation
  • Behavioral issues
  • Growth problems
  • An increased risk of obesity
  • Difficulty in adjusting to school life and social situations

If it has been over two weeks and you are still processing intense feelings of sadness, chances are you have much more than just the regular baby blues. However, this does not always have to be bad news: there are many things you can do about how you feel, and there is no reason to wait it out.

When you do decide to seek help from a doctor, try being as honest as possible. It may feel difficult to talk about your negative emotions related to new parenthood, and you may feel scared to reveal how much you are struggling. However, remember that the more open you are about your postpartum depression, the better a healthcare professional can help you.

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