When we think of welcoming a new baby into the family, we think of a joyous time.
While 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.
Partners And Postpartum Depression Study Findings
When a new mother experiences depression, the entire family unit is affected by this challenging mental health experience.
The mother-baby pair is often affected in a way which can impact the baby in both immediate and long-term ways.
A new study has found dads have the power to reduce the side effects of maternal depression on a family, especially the children.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
This devastating form of depression can leave women feeling unworthy of the role of motherhood, despite the fact they’re not any less of a mother because of depression.
We’re not always certain why some women experience PPD. Women with a history of depression or mood disorders are more likely to have PPD, but it affects many women even without known risk factors.
Pregnancy and birth are times of significant hormonal, bodily and lifestyle changes. It’s a time which makes women very vulnerable to mood disorders, and at no fault of their own.
Sometimes hormonal imbalances simply happen, sometimes a birth experience is traumatic, sometimes there’s a lack of postpartum support, and sometimes we just don’t know why a woman is suffering.
Postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression (PND), is the onset of depression within 12 months of birth.
What Impact Does PPD Have On A Family?
While PPD is very treatable, it can take time for a woman, her partner and her care provider to know she’s experiencing it. And while it’s very treatable, treatment also takes time.
Unfortunately, PPD is rarely cured immediately after beginning treatment, although it can become manageable pretty quickly for many.
Studies have shown in homes where a mother is depressed the entire family unit is impacted in ways such as:
- Lower cohesion (or unity, ability to work together and cooperate)
- Less warmth and expressiveness (less positive emotional interaction)
- Higher rates of conflict
- Negative impact on children’s cognitive and emotional development
- Overall negative impacts on family life.
For these reasons, PPD and maternal depression in general (at times other than the postpartum period) is a public health concern. It impacts entire family units and children’s development.
For a mother experiencing depression, seeing these potential side effects can further feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. However, it’s important to note depression isn’t someone’s fault and potential side effects aren’t guaranteed.
The good news is while these effects are possible, research is finding ways to prevent and treat depression, as well as finding ways to reduce or counteract the side effects on a family unit.
How Can Dads Counteract The Effects Of 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 may wonder why your partner isn’t joyful about the new baby, or why she isn’t as loving towards you as she once was. It isn’t uncommon to also develop depression when your partner is struggling with PPD.
Ruth Feldman of Bar Ilan University in Israel and 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 father contribution in the context of chronic maternal depression. It shows 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, the children behaved differently than expected.
When a mother is experiencing depression, especially untreated or under-treated, children are likely to withdrawal or exhibit disruptive behaviour.
When dads act with high sensitivity they were able to help children better cope with maternal depression.
What Does This Mean For Parents?
This research was a long-term study evaluating chronic maternal depression. If a mother is experiencing PPD, it doesn’t mean she will experience chronic depression once treated.
This also doesn’t mean if a mother experiences chronic depression there will absolutely be major side effects in family life.
However, what this does show is the importance of recognising and treating depression as well as working to reduce the side effects.
The effects of parental depression on children are real. In fact, one study found a father’s mood can impact a child’s cognitive and social development.
It’s important parents and healthcare providers take mental health seriously for all, especially parents, as it can impact the entire family unit.
My Partner Has PPD Or Clinical Depression, What Can I Do?
If your partner is experiencing PPD, the most important thing is you support them 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 in 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 in her treatment.
- Be understanding in offering very needed emotional support.
- Provide practical support. It can be hard to understand, but depression can be physically and mentally exhausting. Any support for day to day tasks can be incredibly helpful during treatment.
- Be aware of and meet your own needs. You can’t help support another person if you’re also neglecting your own needs.
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.