Welcoming a new baby is a time of joy, as well as a radical life adjustment for both parents.
The recovery from pregnancy and birth, meeting the needs of a newborn, and the sleep deprivation can be trying, even for the most well prepared parents.
When postnatal depression is added into the mix, it can tip any sense of balance, and make the adjustment feel completely overwhelming.
If your partner is experiencing PND, you're most likely wondering what it means for her, your baby, your relationship, and what you can do to help.
Chances are, you’re feeling pretty lost, confused and even possibly hopeless.
It’s important that you know from the outset that you’re vital to your partner’s recovery, and also her ability to be the best mother she can be. What you say and do now can make a huge and lasting difference, which means communication and connection are more important than ever.
Here are 9 things you need to know about PND and your partner:
#1: What a PND Diagnosis Means For Dads and Partners
Your partner's struggle with postnatal depression will no doubt have an impact on you and your relationship. Understanding that some of the stress in the home could be a symptom of the illness and not a reflection of your relationship, is important. As hard as it can be, try not to take things personally, especially when you feel pushed away.
If this is your first experience with depression, you might struggle with unexpected feelings. Leaving your wife alone could trigger concerns for safety and even feelings of guilt. You might feel uneasy about heading back to work. You might wonder if she will be able to care for the baby or any other children you have.
When you're not home, frequent calls and texts from your partner could be a new normal, at least for now. When possible, reassuring her with replies can provide much needed support.
Most new parents experience a change in their sex life. Changes in libido due to breastfeeding, recovery from childbirth and even new insecurities can impact a woman's desire to have sex. In addition to typical factors, PND can also decrease a woman's desire for physical closeness. Try to be patient and not take it personally if she isn't interested in sex.
It’s Important To Support Her Treatment
If your partner has PND it is important she gets proper treatment. Getting an adequate medical evaluation and receiving ongoing monitoring from professionals is imperative for healing. It is also important to be sure she has access to counseling, support groups, and the caring help of friends and family.
Going with her to appointments whenever possible is a great way to show you care. If you're unable to go with her, make arrangements with a close friend or relative to accompany her. Be an active participant in her care, but remember that treatment decisions are ultimately hers to make.
Other important ways to show support:
- Ask her midwife, doctor or counselor for information about PND. It can be hard at times to understand the validity of mental illness. Sometimes it seems invisible, but the more you learn the easier it will be to remember that your partner isn't choosing depression. Being aware of symptoms and red flags can help you offer her the appropriate support.
- Some cases of PND will require medication. You might feel uneasy about your partner taking medication, especially while she is breastfeeding and caring for the baby. Take time to learn about the safety of medications during breastfeeding and talk with her doctor. Medication can be an essential part of treatment. If she is prescribed any medication, encourage her to continue taking it until her doctor says otherwise.
- If it is recommended that your partner be admitted to the hospital or a mother-baby unit, it can be very scary for both of you. While this situation doesn't feel ideal, rest assured she will receive the proper treatment necessary for healing. Having the baby remain with her is important to recovery and will prevent interruptions with bonding. It can be disheartening to head home without your partner and baby. While little can help with that feeling, try to use the time to rest or, if you have older children use it as a time to bond with them.
#3: Your Partner Needs Emotional Support
PND is a difficult thing for the mother experiencing it, as well the dad and partner. You don't always need the perfect words, but showing that you care about her emotionally is very important. In time, you two will learn how to navigate this challenge. For now, try to be very patient and reassuring.
You can offer her emotional support by:
- Validating her fears and feelings. Even if these feelings seem unwarranted to you, they are real to her.
- Be a safe place for her to talk. Encourage her to discuss her feelings. Remember that she isn't always looking for you to solve a problem, she might simply need you to listen.
- Do your best not to feel discouraged when she is withdrawn. In the midst of PND she might not be able to express her appreciation, but in time she will no doubt appreciate your patience and support.
- Show support and encouragement for her accomplishments. PND can make even simple tasks feel overwhelming. She might be feeling guilty about her inability to do things. Reassure her that you are pleased with whatever she can manage, and that you are willing to pitch in as needed.
- Avoid calling her or implying that she is lazy. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted is a symptom of PND. Housework can wait. Getting adequate rest is important for her, and for you.
- Be reassuring of her relationship with your baby. She might struggle to care for the baby herself, and at times you or other people will have to assist with care. This can be very hard on a mother so reassuring that she is in fact baby's mother is very important.
- Avoid making major decisions while your partner is struggling with PND. As she recovers, you might find that many of the situations you thought existed were really symptoms of her illness.
- She might feel that PND will last forever, a feeling that is a symptom of PND. Reassure her that PND can be treated and she can recover. Try saying things like, ‘I know you feel really bad right now, but your doctor believes you will get back to your old self.' Avoid telling her not to worry or to get over her feelings
- Remind her that you are there for here and you will remain there for her. A common fear related to depression is that your loved ones will leave. Reassure her often that you are not leaving her.
- It can be challenging, but reassure your partner that you are okay with her lack of interest in sex for the time being. She might be feeling very guilty while also feeling that intimacy is impossible. Remaining physically close, cuddling and other non-sexual touches can be important for both of you. If the lack of sexual desire remains as she recovers, it might be something to bring up with your medical provider.
#4: Your Partner Also Needs Practical Support
Providing practical support is necessary to keep your home in order while she recovers. It is also a way to provide emotional support, you are showing that you understand she is unwell.
- Make an effort to do housework and care for the baby when you are home. This might be difficult if you work long hours or aren’t typically the one who handles some of these essential home duties, but it’s very helpful for her recovery
- Find a task, or tasks, you are able to fully takeover so it is one less thing on her mind. Consistently doing dishes, laundry or bathing the baby not only helps her in that moment, it helps her by not having to worry about these things getting done.
- Be sure to accept any offered help from friends and family members. There is nothing wrong with accepting help, it will make things easier on the both of you.
- Offer to cook dinner, arrange a meal-train or get take out. New mothers need adequate nutrition for physical and mental wellness. By ensuring she gets good meals you not only meet a practical need you can help in her recovery.
- Encourage her to get out for a walk. Even if it's just the three of you after dinner. Exercise and vitamin D can help with depression and boost her mood, both of which you can achieve with a nice walk together. Don't pressure her though; it can be difficult to leave the house when you have PND.
- See if she is open to alternative therapies like acupuncture. Read about the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach to PND.
#5: You May Feel Emotionally and Physically Rundown
The postnatal period is a big adjustment, especially when your partner has PND. You might experience some of the following:
- Interrupted sleep and frequent worrying might leave you feeling physically exhausted
- Confusion about what your partner is going through and the feelings that she is having
- Missing your partner's typical personality, and worrying that it might not return
- Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities between home and work
- Worry about finances if you are missing more work than you anticipated
- Missing your friends and social interaction while you spend more time at home
- Depression. Yes, even men can experience depression in the postnatal period. It is estimated that 2-8% of new fathers experience this.
#6: You Need Support, Too
Being a new father is a big task. Caring for a partner with PND also takes a lot. Do not forget to care for yourself. Keep these things in mind:
- Be sure you have someone to talk to during this difficult time such as a doctor, a trusted family member, or a friend.
- Do not blame yourself for PND. It is no one's fault that your partner is experiencing PND
- You don't need to do everything yourself. Working, trying to keep up the home, caring for your partner and your baby is a lot. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Get plenty of rest. You might be getting interrupted sleep due to a waking baby, but try to head to bed earlier than normal to get enough sleep.
- Remind yourself that this is temporary and with the right treatment your partner will recover from PND.
#7: There Are Red Flags You Should Look Out For
You likely know your partner better than anyone else. It's important that you trust your instincts if you think something is off. If you are concerned, don't hesitate to contact her doctor or support services quickly to get her more support. Some red flags include:
- Talk of harming the baby or herself
- Statements or an obsession with morbid thoughts, such as “You and baby would be better off without me”.
- Complete social withdrawal
- Severe and sudden mood changes
- Risky behavior or bizarre speech and thoughts
- Out of character and odd behavior
- Extreme despair and hopelessness
#8: Postpartum Psychosis Is a Rare Possibility
While postnatal depression is a somewhat common complication, postpartum psychosis is extremely rare. If your partner experiences hallucinations, is saying things that don't make sense, and her behavior is bizarre and risky, it is important that you contact a healthcare provider immediately. This very rare complication is extremely serious.
If your partner experiences psychosis remember that any behavior and speech isn't really her, it is her illness. This can be a very scary experience for both of you, and any older children that you might have. With proper treatment, she can recovery from postpartum psychosis. It is a good idea to seek professional support and counseling for yourself and older children to help process this difficult experience.
#9: Rest Assured, PND Won't Last Forever
With proper treatment and support, PND is a temporary illness. It can seem like it won't end, as it can take many weeks or even months, but it is a very treatable illness. Keep in mind that your partner's body went through 9 months of changes, it can take a bit of time to get back to her old self. Know it can and does get easier. Hang in there – this is your family and they need your love and strength now.