How Can You Support Your Partner in Postpartum Depression?

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How you can support your partner in postpatum depression.

(reading time ~11 minutes) 

In this article, "How Can You Support Your Partner in Postpartum Depression?" we'll be discussing what postpartum depression is and how you can help your partner and yourself should either of you have postpartum depression, also called PPD.

That's right; Dads get postpartum depression and the baby blues too. This post is meant equally for men and women as either may be suffering from PPD or helping their partner get through it. So what is postpartum depression? It's similar to the baby blues in symptoms but quite different in intensity and duration. 

What Is The Baby Blues? 

Baby blues, a feeling of sadness, affects about 80% of women and 10% of men in the first few days after birth but lasts only a few days to a week or two after the baby is born. The baby blues are marked by mood swings, mental and physical fragility, and difficulty sleeping.

Other symptoms include sadness, irritability, anxiety, restlessness, feeling overwhelmed, loss of appetite, and crying spells. But thankfully, these symptoms in both women and men generally last a week or two, get better, and do not require treatment. So hang in there. 

How Is Postpartum Depression Different From The Baby Blues? 

Postpartum depression is a whole different animal than the baby blues. Why? Because with postpartum depression, the symptoms are so pronounced, debilitating, and can last such a long time. Let's look at some of the causes for postpartum depression. 

Having a baby is a tumultuous change in your life, and change isn't easy to handle. There have been tremendous changes in your hormone levels, such as estrogen and progesterone levels dropping steeply after a woman gives birth and oxytocin levels that rise in men. 

You may be struggling with your new identity and emotions as a parent. There may be difficulties breastfeeding or bottle feeding through the night. Latching problems, sore nipples, low milk supply, and painful engorgement can make breastfeeding enormously difficult or even impossible. 

Not to mention the chronic loss of sleep. As your attention focuses on your little one, there are likely to be changes in your relationship with your partner. Will your romantic life ever be the same? 

When Does Postpartum Depression Onset? 

onset of postpartum depression in women

For women, postpartum depression symptoms usually onset within the first three months after the baby is born and peak around the 4-month mark. Postpartum depression peaks at 3-6 months following birth for men but can be earlier or later. Unfortunately, PPD symptoms can last for years, left undiagnosed and untreated, so it's very serious. That's why early detection and treatment are imperative. 

Postpartum Depression Statistics For Women And Men 

One in every seven women will experience postpartum depression and about one in five postpartum anxiety. For fathers, up to 25% will experience PPD depression or anxiety. 

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression For Men And Women 

  1. Includes all the symptoms listed above for the baby blues but lasting more than two weeks and having greater intensity. 
  2. Difficulty Concentrating. 
  3. A feeling of being overwhelmed due to all the responsibilities suddenly in front of you. 
  4.  Sleeping or eating too much or too little. As far as sleep goes, more frequently, it will be too little with all the times your baby will be fed through the night. 
  5. Anxiety. Your mind races with worries and fears that will not subside. 
  6. Extreme fatigue, anger, irritability, and feelings of guilt or shame. You may have the unshakable feeling that you're not doing things correctly or that you are a terrible parent. 
  7. Uncontrollable thoughts of harm coming to your baby or even harming your baby yourself.
  8. Displaying crying, hopelessness, and loss of general interest. 
  9. Engaging in suicide-related thoughts or behavior. 

Support Your Partner in Postpartum Depression

If your partner is a mom, listen to her and let her know that you are there for her. If you think that the mother is in jeopardy of postpartum depression, encourage her to speak with her doctor. Click here to learn more about Mom's Depression And Anxiety During Pregnancy and After Birth.

If you realize you have or may have PPD, come out of the closet early and include your partner in your recovery. Your successful bonding with your little one and feeling like yourself again are at stake. 

Postpartum Depression Signals To Look For:

  • When baby blues symptoms are progressively getting worse.
  • If symptoms make it difficult to care for the baby or complete ordinary, everyday tasks. 
  • Engaging in suicide-related thoughts or behavior. If any of these signs are present, it's time to seek help. 

Helping Your Partner With Postpartum Depression 

support your partner in postpartum depression

Don't think that PPD will go away on its own as the baby blues do. Try to get your partner to see that their behavior has changed if they don't realize it or are covering it up.  

"You don't seem to be scrapbooking anymore, (or woodworking), or getting together with your friends, which you've always enjoyed." This soft approach allows you to open up a conversation without accusation. 

Get involved in your partner's PPD. Read books or study online, go to appointments, get involved with the treatment, and talk to others.

The Best Or Worst Of Friends 

You and your partner can be the best or worst of friends in going through this challenge. Listen to your spouse or partner and allow them to express their feelings without judgment.  Try to empathize. 

If you feel like you're carrying a load too large or that's already led you to depression or anxiety, reach out for help yourself. 

And remember that it's not your job to cure the problem for your partner. More than likely, the "cure" is going to include some form of counseling and perhaps medication, as well as help from family, and friends. 

Your significant other's feelings are the results of complex biochemical and psychological changes that require professional help. Simply listening and understanding will go the furthest in helping to "solve" the problem. 

Do encourage your partner to talk to a doctor, therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist. The sooner one gets screened for postpartum depression and anxiety, the sooner the healing process can begin. You can even suggest talking to the doctor along with your partner. 

Feeling supported by you, family, and friends will be essential for recovery. Let your partner know that the PPD they are suffering from isn't their fault or anyone else's and that you don't blame them for it. 

Try to see that your partner is getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and getting relaxation and exercise time. 

Navigating Difficult Communication With Your Partner

Try to keep your intimate relationship intact and move according to your partner's pace and style. 

Interpersonal communication can be very tricky as your partner in their depression and anxiety may lash out at you, projecting their own doubts and fears onto you. Anger and rage may be part of PPD, and sometimes, it may also be directed towards you. 

You may want to freak out or fight back but keep in mind the effect of that reaction with your partner trusting you with their feelings in the future. Instead, you might say something like, "It's hard for me to understand and support you when I'm feeling like you are putting me down." 

Or sometimes your partner will disengage, making it more difficult, though not impossible, to connect with them. It may leave you wondering, "who is this person I married, and will they ever be the same?" 

Giving Your Partner A Break And Morale Support 

morale support for partner with postpartum depression

Be sure that you're doing your part with feeding, changing, and caring for the baby. Do it without being asked. An extremely helpful thing you can do is to take the baby and any other kids you may have to give your partner a break. 

Be specific about what you are going to contribute. Say, "Tomorrow, from 10 to 2, I'll take the kids to the park so you can enjoy coffee with a friend, squeeze in a nap, or whatever else you like."

If your situation allows you to work from home, this may help your partner, especially if they are suffering from loneliness or isolation. 

Help your partner to understand that treatment for postpartum depression is effective. And though what they are experiencing is horrible, it is temporary. From the start of treatment, most people will start feeling better in about six weeks. 

The Tough Love Approach 

tough love approach not working

Put aside any thought of tough love treatment and shower your partner with kindness and respect. Someone with PPD is fragile and will most likely not respond well to telling them to get it together and get over it, see the positives, and to just relax and be happy. 

Don't push them into things they don't feel ready for. Tell them you love them, as does their baby, and that you'll get through this together. The more positive feedback you give, the easier it will be for them to see themselves in a new light. Support is necessary for recovery. 

Don't just say, "Honey. You're doing a good job." Be very specific so she knows you are noticing. Point out things she's doing with you and the baby, even with her PPD, and that you're proud of her as a parent. 

Tell them how proud you are when they sing, play, and engage with their child, especially when you know they're having difficulty. 

How Men Often Relate To Partners Who Have Postpartum Depression 

In interviews with men with partners who had PPD, time and again there was reported major disruption in the men's life. They felt confused, fearful, and angry. Most of the men communicated making major sacrifices to hold their families together. 

The men generally felt left with an uncertain future with a partner who was far different than the woman they had previously known. Most of the men navigated these tricky waters and came out with increased self-esteem and maturity, but for many, the result was loneliness, divorce, and custody disputes. 

Online Therapy For Postpartum Depression 

Perhaps you believe that you could use help for PPD but getting to a counselor every week while balancing a job and a newborn at home seems like too much. Here's where companies that offer online therapy for people with PPD can be helpful. 

Amwell is an excellent company that offers online meetings on weekdays and weekends with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Its providers can diagnose and treat mild to moderate PPD online using talk therapy, and medication management. In addition, the company provides nutritional counseling. 

Talkspace is another online counseling provider with an extensive directory of licensed, background-accredited therapists. They are ready to talk with you over live video sessions, live chat, phone, or messaging. 

Another helpful feature of Talkspace is that it comes with unlimited messaging. 

BetterHelp offers 30 to 45-minute live video or phone sessions and round-the-clock unlimited messaging with your therapist between sessions. Sesh offers support groups for people going through PPD, and Postpartum Support International offers group therapy sessions. 

Digging A Little Deeper Into Statistics About Fathers Going Through Postpartum Depression. 

As we've discussed, fathers are far from immune to postpartum depression and anxiety. 

The Journal of the American Medical Association found that approximately 10% of fathers become depressed with the baby blues soon before or after their baby is born. About 25% of fathers report symptoms of depression that meet the clinical diagnosis for postpartum depression. 

And if their wives are struggling with postpartum depression, 50% of men will develop PPD. 

Men are particularly susceptible to PPD but a little later than women. Women usually peak about 3 to 4 months after birth, while men generally peak in months 3 to 6. 

In one group of fathers with anxious or obsessional thoughts, 45% reported thoughts of their baby dying of suffocation, and 25% were fearful that they might intentionally harm their baby. 

Why Do We Find Postpartum Depression In So Many Dads?  

  1. This often happens when mom has PPD. Some dads feel stretched too thin nurturing their spouse's postpartum depression while at the same time taking over the primary responsibilities of their newborn. 
  2. Dads may feel overwhelmed by the challenge, worried about their partner, and concerned for their baby. They may feel somehow to blame for their partner's PPD. They may also feel angry, cheated, resentful, and guilty about feeling this way. This type of thinking leads to Postpartum Depression. 
  3. Men who already have a strained relationship with their spouse with PPD stand an even greater chance of having PPD themselves. 
  4. Dads also experience biological, and hormonal changes that account for much of the PPD. "With PPD in general, hormones do play a role, but it's about a lot more, including psychological and social aspects as well," says Dr. Berendzen of UnityPoint Health.
  5. Dads may feel under intense financial pressure to provide for their little one, which can add to financial and career pressures. 
  6. Men may have become accustomed to being the focus of their partner's attention. Now, mom may be focusing on the little one, making dad feel less significant. 
  7. Men may not be getting enough sleep, nourishment, downtime, and yes, sex. All of these can take their toll on mood. 
  8. Men with a history of depression have a greater risk of developing PPD. 

Click here to learn more about Depression And Anxiety In New Fathers And Fathers To Be.

 Signs Of Male Postpartum Depression Are Somewhat Different From Mothers 

postpartum depression in men

Although all the symptoms that we've noted apply to both men and women with PPD, the most prevalent signs of male postpartum depression are a little different from women's. 

Typical signs in men include anger and irritability, working all the time as an escape from PPD symptoms, isolating from family and friends, feeling discouraged, frustrated, or cynical, being easily stressed out, and being prone to risk-taking behaviors such as substance abuse. 

Helping With Postpartum Depression 

If you think that your partner is in jeopardy of postpartum depression, encourage them to speak with their doctor. If you are the one with PPD, come out of the closet early on and include your partner in your recovery. Your early bonding with the baby and your marital relationship could be at stake. 

Seeking Help for Postpartum Depression 

If any of the following signals present themselves in either spouse, it's time to seek help: 

  • Baby blues symptoms that last longer than two weeks. For instance, if you or your partner experience depression or mood swings for more than two weeks. 
  • If symptoms are progressively getting worse. 
  • If symptoms make it difficult to care for your baby. 
  • If symptoms make it challenging to complete ordinary, everyday tasks. 
  • If symptoms include any thought of harming your baby or yourself. 

Just remember that there is help out there, and you can once again feel like yourself. 

Help For Men With Postpartum Depression 

Don't forget the basics of self care: eating well, exercising, avoiding drinking, gambling, or other impulsive behaviors. 

Talk with anyone who will listen to you without judgment about what you're going through – whether that be your partner, a family member, friend, or another parent.

Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help, and remember there are online support groups and forums for people like you. Trying to muscle through by yourself only makes the situation worse. The best and fastest action to take is to admit that you need help.

Usually, though, with men, it's someone else who notices the depression, such as a partner or friend. It may be best if another father happens to reach out to you, but if you or your spouse see concerning symptoms, it's time to ask for help. 

This might be from your family doctor, your pediatrician, a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Often, help will come as talk therapy combined with medication. Usually, medication isn't meant as a long-term solution but is used to help for about 9-12 months.

Also, don't underestimate the power of meditation, yoga, and mindfulness, all of which have been shown to potentially be as effective as medication. 

What Makes It Difficult For Men To Receive Help? 

postpartum depression in men

The stereotype of a man being self-contained and emotionally strong often gets in the way of him being able to show vulnerability and seek help. If the dad isn't ready to proceed yet with therapy but wants to stick his toe in the water, he may want to start looking at these sites on his journey back to mental health:
Postpartum Support International
Postpartum Men
The Postpartum Stress Center
Then he may want to turn to Talkspace, Better Help, or in-person meetings with a licensed therapist.
I hope this article was helpful for you and I look forward to your comments.

About the author 

Dan Sperling

I'm the proud father of two great children. They are grown up now, and although I would have preferred to be a stay-at-home dad, I had to work. Luckily, I could work out of my home so I was around a lot. I ran a video production company, had a couple of great guys working with me and it allowed me to be around the children a lot. I was the "fun guy" for my kids and fathering was something I just took to.
When my daughter became pregnant, I was glad to see my son-in-law was doing everything right--or as good as it gets--we're always winging it, right? It got me thinking that so many dads would like to be more emotionally involved and knowledgeable when it comes to their wives' pregnancy and the first year of their children's lives.

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