When we think of welcoming a new baby into the family, we think of a joyous time.
Although there’s still joy involved, for the 10-20% of new mothers facing postpartum depression (PPD) it can be a time filled with scary uncertainty.
Postpartum depression and your partner
When a new parent experiences depression, the entire family unit is affected by this challenging mental health experience.
The mother-baby pair is often affected in a way that can have an impact on the baby in both immediate and long-term ways.
Research has shown that supportive partners have the power to reduce the side effects of maternal depression on a family, especially on the children.
Mental health: what is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression can leave a woman feeling unworthy of the role of motherhood, despite the fact she not less of a mother because she’s experiencing depression.
The reasons behind some women’s experience of PPD are not always clear. Women with a history, or family history, of depressed mood disorders are more likely to have PPD; however, postpartum depression affects many women – even those without known risk factors.
Pregnancy and birth are times of significant hormonal, bodily and lifestyle changes. They are times that can make women vulnerable to mental health disorders and through no fault of their own.
Sometimes hormonal imbalances simply happen. Sometimes a birth experience is traumatic and leads to a stressful postpartum period. And sometimes there’s a lack of postpartum support. There are also cases where we just don’t know why a woman is suffering.
Postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression (PND), is defined as the onset of depression within 12 months of birth.
Read more in BellyBelly’s article Birth Trauma | What Is It And How Can I Get Support?
Why does my partner keep crying after having a baby?
The postpartum period is full of emotions. After a baby’s arrival, there’s a newborn who needs the mother’s full attention and there’s a mother who needs to recover from the birth.
The first few weeks postpartum are very challenging, due to the hormonal changes that happen in the woman’s body. Crying is an emotion we’ve been taught to believe must be suppressed. In fact, it’s normal for a woman to cry a lot during the first few days postpartum.
When I do postnatal home visits, one of my first questions is ‘Have you cried yet?’ Usually, I get a lot of positive answers and often new moms who haven’t cried yet, suddenly burst out crying. Most likely they’ve been so busy trying to be good parents to their new baby and to their other children, as well as taking care of the whole family and giving their partner support, that they haven’t even had time to let their emotions out.
If your partner cries a lot, it might just be an indicator of normal, healthy postpartum emotions.
Postpartum blues or postpartum depression?
If we consider a postpartum woman’s mental health to be a full spectrum, baby blues would be at one end of this spectrum and postpartum psychosis at the opposite end.
The ‘baby blues’ are completely physiological. This means it’s completely normal. After giving birth it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and, probably, to have little to no alone time. Having sleep problems, or being sleep deprived and feeling tired is common for new parents. If you add the experience of having just given birth and the hormonal roller coaster, it’s quite understandable, and normal, for a woman to be a bit down and weepy.
Baby blues are never accompanied by long-lasting depressive symptoms. Baby blues usually appear three to five days after the baby’s birth. It’s normal that the new mother feels overwhelmed and tearful; she might also experience a certain degree of occasional anxiety. It rarely appears after the first two weeks postpartum.
Although postnatal depression can go from mild to severe, depressive symptoms are long-lasting.
There are many symptoms that might lead to the conclusion a woman is suffering from postpartum depression. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is used by mental health professionals to help diagnose perinatal depression.
If you are worried about your partner’s well-being and you suspect she might be struggling with postnatal depression, then look at the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and have her take the test.
Postpartum psychosis is one of the most severe mental disorders a new mother will experience. The symptoms are quite clear: the woman usually feels full of energy, strong, restless and powerful – quite the opposite of what you’d expect from a woman who’s just given birth a few days or weeks ago.
Read more in our articles: Mood Changes After Birth: The Blues or Depression? and
What impact does PPD have on a family?
Postpartum (or postnatal) depression has an effect all family members.
Although PPD is very treatable, it can take time for a woman, her partner, and her health care providers to know she’s experiencing it. The treatment also takes time.
Unfortunately, PPD is rarely cured immediately after beginning treatment; for many women, however, it can become manageable pretty quickly.
Living with postpartum depression has so impact on everyone in the family.
It can be seen in many ways, such as:
- Lower cohesion or unity; less ability to work together and cooperate
- Less warmth and expressiveness and less positive emotional interaction
- Higher rates of conflict
- Negative effects on children’s cognitive and emotional development
- Overall negative impacts on family life.
For these reasons, perinatal depression, in general, is a public health concern. It affects entire family units and children’s development.
For a mother experiencing depression, seeing these potential side effects can lead to further feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. It’s important, however, to note that depression isn’t someone’s fault and potential side effects aren’t guaranteed to happen.
The good news is although side effects are possible, research is finding ways to prevent and treat depression, and to reduce or counteract the side effects on a family unit.
How to deal with a spouse with PPD?
When your loved one is experiencing depression, it can be challenging to remain patient, helpful and understanding, especially if you’re unfamiliar with depression.
You might wonder why your partner isn’t joyful about the newborn baby or why she isn’t as loving towards you as she once was. It isn’t uncommon for people to develop depression when their partners are struggling with PPD.
Obtaining ethical approval for studying mental health disorders can be tricky. Dr. Ruth Feldman of Bar Ilan University in Israel carried out a very relevant study on depression. Her team collected data from 1,983 married or cohabitating women after they gave birth. They followed up at six months, nine months and six years.
After six years, they selected 46 mothers who displayed signs of PPD or had a diagnosis of clinical depression, and 103 mothers without signs of depression as the control.
Feldman said, ‘This is the first longitudinal study to check fathers’ contribution in the context of chronic maternal depression. This study contributes to proving that fathers have a buffering role on their children’s social-emotional development and on the family interactions’.
Overall, they found the effects mentioned above in families where mothers were experiencing depression. However, the exception was when fathers displayed high sensitivity and low intrusiveness; in these cases, the children behaved differently than expected.
When a mother is experiencing postpartum depression, especially untreated or under-treated, children are likely to withdraw or exhibit disruptive behavior. Professional treatment is necessary as early as possible, in order to avoid behavioral problems in other family members, especially in older children.
When dads acted with high sensitivity they were able to help children to cope better with maternal mental illness.
What does this mean for parents?
When a mother suffers from perinatal depression, it doesn’t mean she will experience chronic depression once treated.
Neither does it mean that if a mother experiences chronic depression there will definitely be major side effects, in terms of family dynamics.
However, what it does show is the importance of recognizing the symptoms, especially if there are self-harm or suicidal thoughts, and getting professional help to treat depression as well as working to reduce the side effects.
It’s important that parents and health care providers take mental health seriously for all, especially new fathers, as it can affect the entire family unit.
Read more in Dad’s Mood Plays A Key Role In Child Development.
My partner has postpartum depression; what can I do?
If your partner is experiencing PPD, the most important thing you can do is support her in finding and maintaining treatment. Both PPD and clinical depression are treatable.
Even if your partner experiences chronic depression, treatment will lessen potential negative effects on the family unit.
By remaining supportive and having positive interactions with your children, you can help them cope as their mother works towards healing from depression.
If your partner has PPD or clinical depression you should:
- Be supportive of her treatment
- Be understanding in offering much needed emotional support
- Provide practical support. It can be hard to understand but depression can be physically and mentally exhausting. Any support with day-to-day tasks can be incredibly helpful during treatment
- Be aware of, and meet, your own needs. You can’t support another person if you’re neglecting your own needs. Finding appropriate support groups will help share the support given to your partner. Social services might also be able to provide your family with the right help or direct you to support groups.
Having a partner suffer from PPD can be incredibly hard.
Be sure to read When She Has PND – 9 Things A Partner Needs To Know to learn more about how to support her.
What is the husband’s role during postpartum?
A man’s role during the postnatal period is mainly to take care of the mother and baby dyad. This means taking care of everything so the mother will be spending most of the time with her baby and getting as much rest as possible.
The important thing is that you understand the mother/baby relationship in a very positive way. The family perspective needs readapting too.
The mother should be tending to the baby’s needs and the father should take care of the rest: house chores, cooking and providing food, taking care of an older child or children, answering calls and managing visitors.
Of course, you’ll be spending time with the baby too, but these first few weeks are very important for correct bonding and attachment.
Why am I so frustrated with my husband postpartum?
The postnatal period is the rawest stage in a woman’s life. This means that most societal norms and impositions don’t work during this time.
Even if he’s a good parent you might feel he is failing at being a good partner. Your partner might not know how to help you, so make sure you talk to him and let him know how he can best help.
Postpartum depression caused by husband
Some women feel so poorly supported during this time that their postpartum depression could be directly caused by their partner’s behavior. Supportive partners are necessary to reduce anxiety and cope with all the changes a new life brings to the family.
In the past few decades, many authors suggested that a man’s behavior significantly contributes to the development of anxiety and depressive disorders in women during the postpartum time.
Paternal postpartum depression
It is also possible for fathers to suffer postpartum depression. Research shows that for every seven women suffering postpartum depression or anxiety, there is one man who will experience it.
Looking after a partner with postpartum depression increases your chances of developing it by 50%.
Read more in BellyBelly’s article Postnatal Depression | Unrealistic Expectations and Postnatal Depression.