Having a baby is a time of joy but adjusting to a new baby in the family can be very stressful and demanding for both new parents. When the new mother is also experiencing postnatal depression (PND), it can also be a very confusing and distressing time for her and also for her partner and family members.
With the addition of your new baby, your lifestyle has now changed. It will not always be so difficult, though, and you will be able to enjoy the blessings of your new family.
Navigate the challenges of postnatal depression with your partner. Find solace, support, and strength in the journey of PND and Your Partner. Let’s look at this real and, unfortunately, very common threat to maternal mental health.
Postnatal mental health
Mental health care providers know that perinatal mental health is extremely delicate. Perinatal depression can happen to anyone – even to a woman who doesn’t feel as though she’s going through a stressful postpartum period.
Research shows that postpartum depression affects a high number of previously mentally healthy mothers.
If a partner is experiencing postpartum depression, it can be daunting and both parents will need a lot of support.
Keep reading to find out the best way to help your partner navigate her postnatal depression.
Is postnatal depression the same as postpartum depression?
Postnatal depression and postpartum depression are used to mean the same mental disorders. Postnatal means ‘after being born’ and postpartum means ‘after giving birth’. The word postpartum is generally used for things that affect the mother and postnatal to things that affect the baby.
Although the correct terminology would be postpartum depression, postnatal depression is used and accepted worldwide, as everybody understands we’re referring to the mother and not the baby when we talk about postnatal depression.
Signs of postnatal depression
Women’s experience of postnatal depression often includes these common signs:
- You feel sad and in a low mood most of the time. Mood disorders are much more severe than regular baby blues. The baby blues last a couple of weeks while your hormones re-adapt to the postpartum period. A predominant depressed mood is one of the most obvious of maternal depressive symptoms
- You lack energy and are feeling tired most of the time after the baby’s birth
- A loss of interest in things that used to give you joy
- You are easily irritated by your partner, your baby or other children
- You feel overwhelmed, worthless, hopeless and self-blaming.
Edinburgh postnatal depression scale
The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a very efficient tool to aid in the diagnosis of maternal depression. Although the EPDS is not a diagnostic tool, it can be useful as the first step towards getting professional help.
Read more about it in BellyBelly’s article Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale | Take The Test.
PND and your partner: Can a man have postnatal depression?
Male partners can also experience postpartum depression. When a baby is born, the whole family perspective is shaken up.
Family dynamics are altered, especially during the first few weeks of the postnatal period when the recovery process from birth is still happening. There are the household chores, possibly child care, the new baby, a postpartum mother and sleep problems for both parents. As new parents, it’s a lot to take in and to cope with.
The anxiety caused by these changes, as well as the possibility of being sleep deprived, the lack of nutritious healthy meals and the lack of practical help might lead a good parent and partner to experience affective disorders or other mood disorders, causing him to suffer from paternal postpartum depression.
It’s not rare for a male new parent to experience postnatal anxiety and depression following the birth of a new child.
If this is your experience, rest assured, you’re not alone. Mental health professionals are well aware of this matter.
Research shows that for every seven women who experience postpartum depression, there is one man who suffers PND.
Read more about this in Postnatal Depression In New Dads.
Postnatal depression and conflict
Sometimes, marital conflict that was previously there surfaces when a baby is born. A baby will not sort out your problematic family history.
If your relationship was hanging by a thread before you had a baby, it will be difficult for it to survive once the baby is born. New mothers go through a turmoil of feelings during the postnatal period.
Even the most supportive partners might struggle with their mental health. A weak relationship between partners might mean postpartum depression increases and can lead to behavioral problems that could end up dissolving the family.
If you feel your marriage is suffering, marriage counselling can help you and show you practical ways to regain the necessary perspective on your new family and your relationship as new parents.
How do I explain postpartum depression to my husband?
Partner support is of paramount importance in any relationship. It is even more important right after the birth of a new child.
Explaining mental health disorders shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the person who suffers them. Perinatal mental health professionals are the right people to help you explain to your partner and other family members what postpartum depression is and how to best support you.
How to support a partner with postnatal depression
Sometimes it can be very difficult to know how to help your partner. You might feel that nothing you say or do is helping her to feel better and you’ve tried many things that haven’t worked. It can help to keep on trying different things, which might work the next time.
What will it mean for you?
Be aware that many of the stressors or problems you perceive during the period of postnatal depression might not be an indicator of your relationship but, in fact, are consequences of the illness.
Your partner might be saying things she does not really mean because of the way she is feeling at the time, or feeling things that could be symptoms of the illness. It can help to try not to take these things personally and to understand that it could be the PND talking.
You might feel concerned about the well being of your partner or her ability to look after the baby or other child you might have. This experience could be the first contact you have ever had with mental illness; you might never have heard of PND before.
You might find it more difficult to leave your partner to go to work or it could be that she calls you frequently or tells you to come home from work.
Other factors, such as her recovery from pregnancy or childbirth, the difficulty of finding some ‘alone time’ as a couple, the effect of medication on her libido and a fear of another pregnancy could also be part of the problem.
Providing support for your partner’s postnatal depression treatment
Make sure that your partner has sought proper medical assessment and ongoing monitoring. She should have access to other support resources, such as counseling, support groups or the involvement of helpful friends and family.
If possible, try to go with her to medical appointments and (in most cases) be actively involved in her treatment. Ultimately, decisions about her care will be hers but you can discuss the options and the advice of her treating health care professional together and then decide on the best course of treatment.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or health worker for accurate information about PND and its treatment. Getting information about PND is important for you so that you can understand some of the symptoms of the illness and be aware of the most supportive ways to help your partner and yourself. There might be times when you will question the validity of the illness but be assured that PND and its symptoms are very real for your partner. With proper treatment, they can be resolved
- Taking medication can cause concern for many people. If medication is required, try to be supportive and encourage her to take it until the doctor says otherwise. This is very important for her recovery
- If it is suggested that your partner be admitted to hospital or to a mother-baby unit (especially if there are suicidal thoughts or risk factors for a postpartum psychosis), this can seem very scary for you both. Be assured that she will receive the appropriate treatment necessary for her recovery.Having the baby with her will ensure that the mother-baby relationship is not interrupted; it can even be enhanced by a hospital stay.Make the most of visiting times to maintain your contact with your partner and baby. Going home to an empty house, when you expect to see your partner and baby, can be very disheartening. You could use this time to catch up on some rest or, if this is not the first baby, spend time with your other children.
Providing emotional support to your partner with postnatal depression
- Don’t worry if you feel as though you don’t know what to say. It is a difficult time for you both and, together, you will learn the best way to deal with it. Try to be patient and reassuring, rather than responding with logic and advice; your partner might misunderstand what you are saying or it could make her feel more incompetent
- Try to validate her experiences or worries and understand that they are very real for her, even if you think her concerns are not warranted
- Encourage her to express her feelings rather than bottle them up. Be prepared to listen to her, even if you feel you are hearing the same things over and over. Try to remember that she might not need you to fix things or to offer her a solution but just to listen and let her know that you have heard her
- Try not to be discouraged if she seems withdrawn or you don’t get a response from her. There’ll be a time when she will be able to respond and express gratitude for your support
- Encourage and support her accomplishments, even the little things. Knowing that you are okay with whatever she can manage and that you will chip in when you can, will make her feel enormously supported
- Don’t tell her she is lazy if she is resting and the housework isn’t done. She might be feeling exhausted, which is a very common symptom of PND. Rest is important for both of you and other things can wait
- At all times, be reassuring of her relationship with your baby. There might be times when she struggles to take care of the baby herself and you, or others, will need to take over. Always reassure her that she is the baby’s mother and there will come a day when she can care for the baby fully by herself
- Try to avoid making any major decisions while your partner has PND. If possible, wait until she recovers. You might find that many of the problems you thought existed will be resolved as your partner recovers
- You will be told that PND is temporary but she might feel as though it will never go away. This is a symptom of the illness. It will help to reassure her if you say something like, ‘I understand that you feel bad now but the doctor believes you will return to your old self again’, rather than saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll get over it’.
- Try to reassure her that you will stand by her. One of her fears might be that you will tire of her and the illness and leave
- Reassure your partner that it’s fine if she is not interested in sex for the time being. Touching or cuddling that doesn’t lead to sex might be more comfortable at this time. It’s important that you both communicate what you want and how you feel. If sex is still a problem, perhaps you could talk it over with your medical practitioner.
Providing practical support to a partner with postnatal depression
- Help out with the housework and baby care as much as you can. This might be difficult if you work long hours but she will benefit from any help you can give her. Identify tasks that you can make a part of your routine – for example, bathing the baby
- If family members offer to help, make sure that you accept. There is nothing wrong with allowing others to help with things such as housework or shopping
- Offer to cook dinner or pick up take away.
Postnatal depression: concerns for you
- You might feel more tired or exhausted if your sleep is disturbed or if you are worried
- You might feel anxious and confused about what is happening to your partner and wonder whether she and the baby will be okay. You might feel a sense of loss that the woman you knew seems to have gone and you don’t know how to help her come back
- You might feel that the demands of your home life and the extra responsibilities of caring for the children are impinging on your time and demands at work. You might also feel financial stress, especially if you are needed more at home
- You could be experiencing a loss of social contacts and feeling unsupported, as the need for you to be at home and other family demands increase
- There is a risk of depression in men after childbirth (the estimates are around 2-8%), especially if you have experienced depression before. Having a partner with depression as well as the extra stress and responsibility you face, might also put you at greater risk, so make sure you look after yourself.
Support for you
- Don’t forget that you also need special attention at this time. Make sure you have someone you can talk to about your concerns and frustrations – for example, a trusted family member, a friend or your doctor
- Give yourself credit for what you are doing. It’s okay for you to feel disappointed or frustrated about the situation, without feeling guilty. It is natural to feel this way if things are not going the way you anticipated; however, try not to let these feelings get the better of you
- Try not to feel that you have to do everything yourself. If you need a break, ask a friend or family member to be with your partner and baby. Make sure you get help as a family; PND affects the whole family and you should have help that benefits all of you
- Don’t blame yourself; PND is no one’s fault
- Get plenty of rest. If you are waking up frequently throughout the night to tend to the demands of the baby or because your partner’s sleeplessness is disturbing you, you will need to catch up on your rest and sleep at other times
- Remember that this is temporary; your partner will recover with the appropriate help.
Danger signs to look for
Always trust your instincts if you become more concerned about her well being or that of your children or if there is any deterioration in her PND. It might mean that you need to contact her doctor or support services directly, to let them know or to seek advice.
Do this if your partner shows any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Talk of harming herself or the baby
- Bizarre thoughts or speech patterns or risk taking behaviour
- Behaviour that seems odd or is out of character
- Severe change in mood
- Withdrawal from all social contact
- Extreme despair
- Obsession with morbid ideas or statements such as ‘You’d be better off without me’.
When your partner has postpartum psychosis
Postpartum psychosis is extremely uncommon and difficult for you and your partner to deal with. Communication with your partner will be affected if her thoughts are confused, if she is saying things that don’t make sense or if she has delusions or hallucinations.
If this happens, it is a good idea to seek counselling yourself, as you will be also be affected and you will have many questions. Try to find a trusted health professional for yourself.
Some things your partner might say will seem highly distressing or inappropriate but try to remember that it is her illness talking. With appropriate treatment and support, the rate of full recovery is high and, one day, you will have back the woman that you knew.
For the future
If you are planning future pregnancies, be sure to consult your health professional for medical guidance. There is a higher risk of PND a second time when a woman has already experienced it. Most medical practitioners recommend a woman should have discontinued medication for at least a year before attempting a subsequent pregnancy.
PND is very treatable and has an excellent prognosis for full recovery. It can sometimes take many months but, if you persevere, you will be rewarded with the family you have been waiting for.