How long does postpartum depression last?
Seven years. That’s how long I have personally battled postpartum depression. I’ve tried all kinds of different treatment options over the years and it regularly fluctuates between better and worse. There was a time in my life when I thought I was cured. But now I know better. I know that it will never go away. I have accepted that managing my mental health is going to be a lifelong journey.
Yes, postpartum depression can last longer than a year or more. Here’s what you need to know.
Postpartum depression is a form of a major depressive disorder that happens to women after they give birth. Something along the journey into motherhood triggers the brain to revert into a depressive state. Sometimes the cause is obvious, such as a difficult labor or a history of trauma, abuse or mental illness. In other cases, the cause lies much deeper and is harder to pinpoint. Regardless of the cause, a mental illness has now been triggered and that means it’s here to stay. While similar in symptoms, there are a few differences between depression and postpartum depression.
Hormones have a lot to do with it.
Creating a life is unlike any other event in the world. Women’s bodies go through immense changes that we can’t even begin to understand. We’re all too familiar with the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy, causing an expectant mother to feel everything from uncontrollable weepiness to pure rage. After giving birth, those hormones now have to work overtime to regulate themselves and it’s not an easy process.
The majority of women will experience some form of the baby blues, which is not a mental health disorder, but rather a normal response to the hormonal and environmental changes. It’s easy to blame all these new and scary feelings on the baby blues, but those only last for a couple weeks. Postpartum depression can begin anytime in the year after giving birth, and long after hormone levels have regulated.
Depression can be triggered by trauma.
In addition to those 9 months of changes, there is the trauma of childbirth. No matter what your labor and delivery story was like, it was traumatic on your body. Like a soldier going to war, you will come out of it a changed person. For some, their body adjusts to the trauma and they are able to move on, at least to some degree. For others, however, the trauma leaves it’s mark.
Bear in mind that what is considered traumatic to you, may not be considered traumatic to others. Just because you had a smooth delivery without any major problems doesn’t mean you’ve escaped unscathed. Birth has a way of uncovering deep feelings and vulnerabilities that we didn’t even know we had. Speaking to a therapist or using cognitive behavior therapy can help to discover the root cause of your postpartum depression.
Maternal postpartum care sucks.
There is no elegant way to put this, it just plain sucks. A lot of emphasis is put on prenatal care, but not nearly enough on postpartum care. Once a mother becomes pregnant, she is seen by a doctor monthly, then bi-weekly, weekly and sometimes even daily until she gives birth. Then there is a whole lot of commotion surrounding the birth and the 3 or so days afterwards.
And then she is sent home with a follow up appointment for 6 weeks later. She’ll have to haul that baby in to get checked out on the regular, but now that the baby is on the outside, her body doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Unless there is a physical postpartum complication, then she will get the care and attention she needs. But mental postpartum complications are never treated with the same sense of urgency.
What [actually] happens in the 4th Trimester?
Here is a woman who’s physical, mental and emotional state has just gone through the roller coaster ride of it’s life. She is in pain everywhere as she’s literally just been ripped open and had a part of her removed. A brand new person is now completely dependent on her for their survival but there is a major communication barrier.
Despite feeling the highest levels of exhaustion, she’ll be unable to sleep for longer than a 3 hour stretch… for months. The pressure to breastfeed weighs heavily on her. She will feel vulnerable, exposed and judged every time her baby is hungry, and that will be a lot. She will lose all confidence in herself as a woman if she is unable to produce enough milk.
The first three months postpartum (or 4th trimester) should be the time when a mother rests and gets to know her newborn. She should have support and help. She shouldn’t need to worry about anything other than herself and baby. But this rarely happens. A lot of people will “visit” but only the odd few will actually be of any real help. Many mothers even have to return to work before they have time to properly heal.
Years Later and Still Depressed.
When we take into account the terrible state of maternal mental health care, it’s no wonder that more and more women are battling depression long after giving birth. Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders should be treated with much more respect. Mothers need time to heal, they need help and proper support. The level of care for a new mother should be just as important as it is for a newborn baby.
But the blame is not solely on the health care system. Take my story, for example. I am fortunate that I live in Canada and was able to take an entire year of paid maternity leave. I also delivered by midwives and the postpartum care that I received from them was far superior to anything I got in the hospital. They came TO. MY. HOUSE. for days and weeks afterwards just to check up on me and baby. They stayed for hours and drank tea and helped me breastfeed and changed diapers. But I still got postpartum depression, despite all of that.
What it comes down to is that mothers need to take better care of themselves. They need to understand the importance of rest and accepting help from others. And most importantly, they need to speak up if they feel like something isn’t right.
There is no cure for postpartum depression. Treatment will make the symptoms manageable but it will never go away.
This will be my seventh year fighting against postpartum depression, so I can confirm that this is a long term battle. But I say this not to make you feel even more depressed, but to encourage and inspire you. Talk to you doctor, fight for your rights, demand better treatment and speak up about postpartum depression to everyone who will listen.
Most importantly, seek treatment. With the right treatment, you can live symptom free for the rest of your life. All it takes is that first step.