Persistent sadness after the birth of your baby is a reason to consult a doctor or mental health professional. Untreated postpartum depression can be risky for you and your newborn.

The “baby blues” are so common that around 4 out of 5 new parents feel sad and out of sorts in the first few days after their baby’s birth. But a smaller number of moms — about 1 in 7 — develop postpartum depression (PPD).

With PPD, sadness starts within the first 3 months after childbirth and lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a year. PPD symptoms can be severe enough to affect your ability to function and care for your newborn.

Some research suggests that about half of new mothers with PPD don’t get a diagnosis. They don’t talk with their doctors about their symptoms, and their doctors don’t ask.

But getting treatment is important if you have symptoms of PPD. Without treatment, PPD could turn into chronic depression. The sadness, guilt, and worry you experience could also have negative effects on your baby’s development.

Some temporary sadness or moodiness is normal after childbirth. But you could have PPD if you continue to feel sad or if you have any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks after you deliver:

  • feeling hopeless, angry, guilty, ashamed, or worthless
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • crying more than is typical for you
  • losing your appetite
  • losing interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • avoiding friends and family
  • experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby (If this happens, go to the nearest emergency room or text or call 988 for help.)

If symptoms like these go untreated, they can get worse. PPD can have a lasting impact on both you and your baby.

Although PPD is very treatable with talk therapy and medication, it often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed.

Nearly 60% of women who experience PPD don’t officially get a diagnosis, and around half don’t get treatment.

PPD goes undiagnosed so often that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends everyone undergo screening for depression and anxiety after giving birth.

But about 1 in 8 women surveyed in 2018 said that healthcare professionals didn’t ask them about depression during their postpartum appointments.

Untreated PPD can affect your mental health and your ability to care for your baby. It can also affect your baby’s health and development.

A 2019 research review found that, compared with mothers who felt fine after childbirth, those with PPD had:

  • lower self-esteem
  • more anxiety and depression
  • more relationship problems
  • more “risky” behaviors, such as smoking

Untreated PPD can also increase the risk for suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of postpartum death, accounting for 1 in 5 maternal deaths in the first year after childbirth.

A mother’s mental health can affect the child’s health too. Moms with PPD don’t breastfeed for as long as those who don’t experience PPD. They also have more trouble bonding with their newborns and are at greater risk of neglecting or abusing their babies.

Additionally, babies of mothers with PPD may:

  • have more behavior problems
  • experience language delays
  • have more trouble sleeping
  • not get all their recommended vaccines

The effects PPD may have on a child can last for many years. A 2020 study found that children who were exposed to their mothers’ depression had more emotional problems and more difficulty with social skills when they started school, especially if the exposure happened in their first year of life.

If you think you might have PPD, call the doctor you feel most comfortable talking with. That might be your OB-GYN, midwife, or primary care doctor or a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker.

Before your appointment, learn as much as you can about PPD. Write a list of concerns and questions to discuss during the visit. Try to be as open as possible with your doctor or mental health professional. While it can be hard to open up about your mental health, the more informed a healthcare professional is, the better equipped they’ll be to help you.

Your doctor should give you a questionnaire to screen you for depression. If they don’t offer a screening, advocate for yourself and ask for it. Or you can request a referral to another medical professional to get a PPD screening.

Although our understanding of mental health in new mothers has improved over the years, many misconceptions about PPD persist. Here are a few of the most common ones.

PPD affects all new mothers equally

Although any new mother can feel depressed after the birth of their baby, some groups are at higher risk than others. Rates of postpartum depression are higher in those who:

  • live in low income communities
  • are American Indian or Alaska Native
  • had depression before or during their pregnancy
  • are first-time moms
  • gave birth to twins
  • smoked cigarettes during their pregnancy or right afterward
  • experienced intimate partner violence before or during their pregnancy

Your mood will improve on its own

Sometimes a new mother’s mood does improve in time, but not always.

In a 2020 study, researchers followed more than 4,800 mothers and their children for 3 years after the children were born. They found that in 13% of the mothers, PPD symptoms eventually decreased. But in 8% of mothers, PPD symptoms got worse, and in 5%, severe depression lasted for years after their child’s birth.

Postpartum depression isn’t serious

Depression can have serious effects on both you and your baby. It can increase your risk of having long-term depression and affect your ability to care for your child.

If left untreated, PPD can even increase your risk of dying by suicide.

Only new mothers get postpartum depression

PPD doesn’t only affect new moms. According to a 2020 study, 5% to 10% of new fathers also experience emotions such as anger, irritability, and aggression after the birth of their child.

Depression in new fathers can lead to risks such as:

  • partner violence
  • substance use disorder
  • divorce
  • problems with the child’s development

Your care team should listen to your concerns and evaluate you for PPD. But if you feel like they’re not listening or not taking you seriously, ask your doctor, a family member, or a friend for a referral to a mental health professional who has experience treating PPD.

You have the right to find someone who will pay attention to your concerns and treat you with compassion.

Effective treatments for postpartum depression are available, including antidepressants and PPD-specific medications such as brexanolone (Zulresso) and Zurzuvae (zuranolone). You might also find it helpful to talk through your feelings and learn how to manage them in one-on-one or group therapy.

Having a strong support system can be beneficial. You can ask for help from friends, family, neighbors, or a babysitter to ensure that you get enough rest and have time for self-care.

Additionally, you might want to join a support group. You can ask your doctor or midwife for a recommendation or check with the hospital where you gave birth. Online support groups are also available through organizations such as Postpartum Support International.

Postpartum depression is common. Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and guilt can last for months or even years after your baby’s birth. And untreated PPD could lead to chronic depression and have negative effects on your child’s development.

If you’re experiencing PPD symptoms, ask a healthcare professional for help. Medications and talk therapy can help you manage PPD and prevent complications.