Having a baby is a lot. With all the new feels and changes, new moms often deal with short-term sadness called the “baby blues.”

But what if it’s something more? Depressive feelings that last longer than a few weeks after your bébé’s born could be postpartum depression (PPD).

PPD is a form of perinatal depression that affects up to 15 percent of people post-birth. It can happen any time in the first year after baby is born, and can also start during pregnancy.

What does postpartum depression feel like?

You may have long-term feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, and extreme tiredness. This can make it difficult to take care of yourself and your baby.

PPD can happen any time after childbirth, but often starts within 1 to 3 weeks, and lasts longer than 2 weeks.

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Even with more awareness around the postpartum depression, it’s estimated that about half of PPD cases go undiagnosed.

If you think you’re dealing with postpartum depression, seeking help doesn’t mean you’re not up to the job of motherhood. Here’s how to spot symptoms of postpartum depression, and how to get back on track.

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Design by Viviana Quevedo; Photograph by Westend61/Getty Images

The exact cause of PPD isn’t totally understood, but researchers have a few theories:

  • The risk for all types of depression may be genetic.
  • Hormones shift dramatically after childbirth, which could trigger PPD.
  • Low levels of thyroid hormone may play a role.

You may have PPD even if you’ve never had depression before. But if you’ve had PPD before, it’s more likely to happen with future pregnancies.

Additional risk factors of PPD include:

  • personal or family history of depression or other mental illness
  • past physical or sexual abuse
  • stress
  • diabetes
  • pregnancy complications
  • smoking, drinking, or using drugs
  • breastfeeding difficulty
  • newborn health complications
  • history of premenstrual syndrome
  • lack of social support

PPD is also more likely to happen if it’s a first-time pregnancy and in those who are very young or past the “prime” baby-making age.

How will you (or your doctor) know if you have PPD? If you’ve had five or more of the following symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, you may be diagnosed with PPD:

Other signs of PPD include:

  • You don’t have interest in things you used to enjoy.
  • You feel tired all the time.
  • You have trouble sleeping or are sleeping too much.
  • You’re eating a lot more or a lot less than you usually do.
  • You’re gaining or losing weight (in a way that’s not expected around pregnancy and childbirth).
  • You have trouble concentrating or making decisions.
  • You aren’t bonding with your baby.
  • You have thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby.
  • You have thoughts of suicide.

If you see signs of PPD in yourself or someone you care about, it’s important get help ASAP.

How long does postpartum depression last?

Without treatment, postpartum depression can last months or years.

Untreated PPD can also affect the entire family in the following ways:

  • The person who carried the baby may develop chronic depressive disorder.
  • Partners or other family members may develop depression.
  • The child may develop emotional or behavioral problems, excessive crying, delayed language development, sleeping problems, eating problems, insecure attachment, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
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Many people get the “baby blues” in the first few days after they give birth. It’s a mild and common reaction to adjusting to a big life change, hormone fluctuations, and lack of sleep.

Symptoms of the baby blues include:

  • feeling sad
  • anxiety or overwhelm
  • mood swings
  • crying
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of appetite

Baby blues is definitely not the same as postpartum depression. The biggest difference is the baby blues only lasts up to a few weeks. Mood disruption that lasts longer than 2 weeks could be PPD.

Postpartum depression vs. baby blues at a glance

Duration. The baby blues typically last 3–5 days, and no longer than 2 weeks. Symptoms that last more than 2 weeks are likely PPD.

Onset. The baby blues begin within a few days after childbirth. PPD can begin any time in the year after pregnancy.

Severity. The baby blues is short term and will resolve on its own. PPD symptoms are more severe and require medical treatment for you to get better.

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Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health condition that can lead to violence or dangerous behavior. It’s very rare, with only about 1 to 2 out of 1,000 women who have given birth experience postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum psychosis is considered a medical emergency. So, if postpartum psychosis seems like a possibility, contact your doctor and visit the emergency room right away.

Signs to watch for include:

  • hallucination (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • feeling confused, hopeless, upset, or restless
  • paranoia
  • trouble sleeping
  • rapid mood swings
  • mania
  • thoughts of hurting yourself, your baby, or others

Nongestating parents can also experience the sleep loss, schedule upheaval, and stress of welcoming a new family member.

So depression can def affect people during their partner’s pregnancy or in the first year postpartum. A 2017 study found that 13.3 percent of men had depressive symptoms when their partner was in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Symptoms of PPD in dads are usually milder and dominated by mood disturbances and anxiety.

Rather than crying and sadness, depression in the nonbirthing partner may look like:

  • anger
  • frustration
  • irritability
  • impulsivity

Factors that put the nonbirthing partner at higher risk of depression in early parenthood, include:

  • inability to bond with the baby
  • financial and work stress
  • low testosterone (in men)
  • lack of social support or a parental role models
  • jealousy over mother-child bond
  • their partner is depressed

PPD isn’t something you just tough out. Needing treatment is no indication of how strong or motherly you are. PPD is a medical condition, not a character flaw.

If you’ve had a baby within the last year and have been experienced PPD symptoms for 2 weeks or more, it’s time to seek help.

A note on suicide

If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others seek help immediately. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of postpartum depression.

If you or someone in your life has had thoughts of suicide, take these steps:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
  • Stay with them (or ask someone to stay with you) while you wait for help to arrive.
  • Remove items that may cause harm like medications, chemicals, or weapons.
  • Call 911 if you think someone is in immediate danger, and you’re unable to reach them. Calling 911 should be used with caution.
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The good news is, if you’ve recently had a baby, you might already be seeing a doctor that can evaluate you for postpartum depression.

Bring up your symptoms with your prenatal care provider, primary care doctor, or your baby’s doctor. A doctor can diagnose PPD by asking you questions about your feelings since giving birth.

From there, treatment options might include:

  • counseling like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy
  • support groups
  • antidepressant medication
  • estrogen
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy
  • a combo of the above treatments

Home recovery tips for PPD

In addition to medical treatment there are things you can do at home to support your recovery from PPD:

  • Exercise daily, or as often as you can.
  • Eat enough, and regularly.
  • Rest (this might be your highest priority after taking care of the baby).
  • Avoid alcohol (it’s a depressant).
  • Avoid drugs.
  • Ask for help with caring for the baby, taking care of the house, and to give you some time alone.
  • Remember your pre-baby hobbies and engage with things you enjoy.
  • Talk with your employer about flexibility when returning to work.
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Preventing postpartum depression isn’t simple. But, if you know you’re at risk or have experienced depressive episodes before, you can try to get out in front of it.

Once you discover you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor or therapist about strategies for preventing PPD. If you’re already taking an antidepressant, talk to your prescriber about how to safely continue, change, or stop medication during pregnancy.

Practicing healthy self-care habits throughout pregnancy and during the postpartum period may also be helpful.

Having a baby can be hard on your body, mind, and family. Postpartum depression affects many new parents, and is not a personal failure.

If you’re dealing with PPD, you’ll need professional treatment to feel better and enjoy your growing family. It can also be helpful to reach out to supportive family members, a doctor, or support groups as you recover.