The birth of a cute, healthy baby is a joyous milestone for the expectant couple that mostly overshadows the difficulties experienced during the whole pregnancy and beyond. We would expect couples, especially newly-minted mothers, to be absolutely ecstatic after delivery. But in some cases, the exact opposite may happen, plunging mothers and their partners into the rabbit hole that is postpartum depression.
Women may experience feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and sadness after childbirth that usually last only a short while and resolve on its own. This is termed the “baby blues”, and is a seemingly common phenomenon for women, occurring in up to 70% of all new mothers. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is a form of depression that is more intense, debilitating, and may last longer, even up to months after childbirth. It usually starts 1-3 weeks after delivery but may occur even up to 1 year after childbirth. According to the CDC, rates of postpartum depression may vary between 1 in 8 women to 1 in 5 women in the United States, which is definitely a cause for concern, as this condition can lead to health problems or even suicidal thoughts. Therefore, proper recognition and management of the condition is essential to avoiding potentially tragic complications, and the role of the husband cannot be overstated. Here we will look at 5 ways partners can help their wives cope with postpartum depression.
Look out for risk factors and recognize warning signs
Women who have the following may be at risk of developing postpartum depression:
- Personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder
- Problems with prior pregnancy or previous postpartum depression
- Poor social support
- Relationship or financial issues or stressful events
- Drug abuse or alcoholism
- Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy
- Baby with health problems or special needs
As their partners are usually the closest to and spends the most time with their spouses, they are in the best position to detect early warning signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, which are the following:
- Sadness or severe mood swings, irritability and frustration
- Changes in appetite or unintended weight loss
- Impaired thinking, concentration, or decision-making
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously desired activities
- Disinterest or anxiety when around the baby
- Body pains or aches without a clear cause and do not go away even with treatment
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
The presence of these signs and symptoms should alert their partners to the possibility of postpartum depression.
Be involved and supportive in seeking help
The partners can educate themselves about postpartum depression and then help their spouses recognize the symptoms that signal the presence of this condition. They should gently encourage their wives to seek professional help for this disorder. As there is some evidence to suggest that women whose partners accompanied them to clinic visits had decreased depressive symptoms compared to those who didn’t, the impact of partner support should not be underestimated. Hence, as much as possible, they should be present during visits to the doctor to show support and help alleviate their partners’ anxiety. And if the doctor prescribes medications, women with postpartum depression may not have the motivation to be fully adherent to the treatment regimen, or may be forgetful, so their partners will also need to know the details of the treatment and help them stick to the plan.
Listen to her and don’t gloss over her concerns
Partners should not be dismissive of or gloss over their spouses’ concerns, or assume that they will automatically get over their depression on her own. Or worse, judge or berate them for feeling the way they do. They should be understanding and attentive, and acknowledge their concerns as valid so as to avoid alienating them and further worsening their feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and isolation.
Be patient and affirmative
As women with postpartum depression may be irritable, anxious, easily frustrated, unreasonable, and have severe mood swings, it is important for their partners to be prepared to extend a generous dose of patience to their spouses. Even well-intentioned statements and reaffirmations may not be taken well, and so partners of women with postpartum depression will have to be extra patient and careful with their words and actions, and be reassuring, so as to avoid more stress and anxiety building up. Reaffirmation is best served after a course of healthy listening, not as a hasty or speedy reply to quickly address their partners’ concerns and avoid a protracted discussion.
Offer to help her out in various ways
Helping their partners in various, even seemingly small ways, may go a long way in reducing the stress and burden of postpartum depression. Taking out the trash, shopping for groceries, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, taking turns watching or feeding the baby to let the mother rest, ensuring that her transportation to the doctor’s clinic is taken care of, or scheduling activities that let her relax or have fun, are all practical ways of helping out.
Postpartum depression can have serious health consequences for women. Aside from professional medical help and the use of medications, the impact of partner support on helping women deal with postpartum depression can never be overstated. Strong emotional support from the partner can spell the difference between succumbing to its effects or overcoming it, and thus more partners should be educated about how to help their wives deal with postpartum depression.
- Torres, F. Postpartum Depression. American Psychiatric Association. October 2020.
- Depression Among Women. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 14, 2020.
- Postpartum Depression. Office on Women’s Health. May 14, 2019.
- Misri, S., et al. The Impact of Partner Support in the Treatment of Postpartum Depression. Can J Psychiatry 2000;45:554-558.