Postpartum Depression May Last 3 Years

Professor Erin Bell conducted research that found that postpartum depression can last three years after the birth of the baby. (2018 photo by Patrick Dodson)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 1, 2020) — A recent study by a School of Public Health professor and partners found that a mother’s postpartum depression can last for a full three years after the birth of their baby and, in some cases, get worse over time.

The study looked at 4,866 mothers from Upstate KIDS, an ongoing cohort-based study led by Erin Bell, an environmental health sciences and epidemiology professor. Bell and her team conducted assessments of depressive symptoms at 4, 12, 24 and 36 months postpartum while demographic and perinatal conditions were gathered from vital records and maternal reports.

Published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the study found that one quarter of mothers had elevated depressive symptoms in the three years after the birth of their babies. Additionally, young mothers, those without college education and those with gestational diabetes were at a higher risk for depressive symptoms.

Bell notes that the results showcase the need for maternal depression screening beyond the postpartum period.

“If screening for depression happens only once, or happens too early after delivery, we may be missing a large percentage of mothers who develop depression,” she said. “Assessing mothers multiple times early and late in the postpartum period — and extending the postpartum period to at least two years after birth — would provide a clearer picture of mothers whose symptoms are persisting or increasing so caregivers may connect them with the appropriate resources for support.”

Upstate KIDS is a collaboration among UAlbany, the New York State Department of Health and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that tracks the ongoing growth, motor and social development of more than 6,000 babies born to 5,000 mothers between 2008 and 2010 in 57 counties of upstate New York excluding New York City.

The study was recently covered by NPR; you can listen to the segment here.

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