How common is postpartum depression?

The number of women who are affected by postpartum depression (PPD) is hard to pin down, since there are many cases that go undetected, unreported, and untreated. 

Numerous professional societies, including the March of Dimes and the American Psychological Association, report that PPD affects up to one in every seven new moms. In state-by-state data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that estimates can range from one in ten to one in five. PPD usually occurs in the first 2 or 3 months after delivery, though it can happen any time in the first year after birth. Furthermore, though a history of depression is a risk factor for PPD, about half of all women diagnosed with PPD experience depression for the first time.

Risk factors for PPD

One in seven women is a rough estimate for how common PPD is, but for women who are part of certain groups, it occurs more frequently. Groups who are at a higher risk for postpartum depression include those who:

  • Are younger than 20
  • Are experiencing stress, including stress about a partner, stress about parenthood, or who have difficult births
  • Have a personal or family history of depression or mental illness, including PPD from a previous pregnancy

Contributing factors to PPD

It’s not clear what causes PPD, but evidence suggests that a series of contributing factors can play a part. These contributing factors include:

  • A lack of familial or community support, or a lack of support from a partner
  • The hormonal changes that come with pregnancy and delivery
  • In some cases, low levels of thyroid hormones can cause or contribute to depression
  • Fatigue or lack of sleep
  • Having an especially fussy baby, or a baby with special health needs

Postpartum depression is common. However, it is not something you have to “just get through,” and there are treatment options to help address it.  The first step is recognizing it and getting help.

If you don’t like the way you are feeling or what you are thinking, let somebody know.  Your obstetric provider can screen you for depression and help discern the difference between baby blues, depression and other emotional complications of pregnancy.  Whether through talk therapy, medication, or some combination, help is available.

Read more
  • “Depression during and after pregnancy fact sheet.” Office of Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 12 2016. Web.
  • “Postpartum depression.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes Foundation, March 2016. Web.
  • “Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders.” MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health. Massachusetts General Hospital, 2015. Web.
  • “What is postpartum depression & anxiety?” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 2017. Web.
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