What is late-onset postpartum depression?

A common misconception about postpartum depression is that it only occurs in the first 4 to 6 weeks after delivery. Postpartum depression can actually emerge 4 months, 6 months, even 8 months after birth. It’s important for women to know that postpartum depression can happen at any point in the year following childbirth, and that they should keep an eye out for any symptoms, even if it’s been months since their little one’s arrival.

Postpartum depression emerges at different times for different women, and typically, its arrival is categorized as being either early-onset or late-onset.

Early-onset postpartum depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is considered early-onset when it occurs in the days or weeks immediately following childbirth. Early-onset PPD is often referred to as the “baby blues,” which are differentiated from PPD by the way the symptoms are milder, and the fact that the baby blues often go away on their own before too long (although talk-therapy as a treatment may help send the baby blues on their way a little faster in some cases).

Early-onset PPD is often milder than late-onset PPD, and may be marked by symptoms like tearfulness, anxiety, or irritability. These mood changes are usually at their worst 3 to 5 days after a woman has given birth. Early-onset postpartum depression normally goes away on its own after a few weeks, with support and understanding, but without medication or therapy.

Late-onset postpartum depression

Late-onset PPD occurs weeks or months after childbirth. Unlike early-onset, late-onset postpartum depression starts as a small collection of thoughts and emotions that become more frequent and more intense as time goes on. This gradually begins to affect how a woman acts in daily life, as well as her normal emotional state.

Late-onset postpartum depression is especially dangerous because many women don’t think they can develop postpartum depression after about 6 weeks postpartum. They’re more likely to blame themselves, not PPD, for their troubling feelings and thoughts, and less likely to seek and get a diagnosis from their healthcare provider.

No matter how recent it’s been since they gave birth, it’s critical for all new mothers to pay attention to any changes in their moods. Not all emotions or mood fluctuations are bad, and in fact, many are normal and to be expected in this time in a woman’s life. But women should never be afraid to seek out the help of a healthcare provider if they notice symptoms that could potentially be caused by postpartum depression.

  • “Postpartum depression.” UAMSHealth. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 2016. Web.
  • Katherine Stone. “Postpartum Depression Can Still Arise Late in the First Year.” PostpartumProgress. Postpartum Progress Inc., Sep 19 2012. Web.
  • Ricardo J Fernandez. “Postpartum Depression: Frequently Asked Questions.” nj.gov. State of New Jersey, Jul 12 2012. Web. 
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