Monday, November 15, 2004

Tips & Information for Partners of Postpartum Depression Sufferers 

Adapted from www.postpartum.net & www.postnataldepression.com.


Dear Partner:

Ten to twenty percent of mothers are afflicted with postpartum depression (PPD) after giving birth. Some other conditions may include symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, obsessive thinking, or compulsive repetitive behaviors. You can read more in detail about these conditions under “What is Postpartum Mood Disorder?” on http://www.postpartum.net/.

A mother suffering from PPD is unable to pull herself out of it. If she could she would. Most mothers with PPD describe the associated feelings as “terrible” or “worst I’ve ever felt in my life”. Many women will try to hide their feelings and thoughts that are caused by PPD. This is often due to shame and guilt because they think that they are not a good mother if they cannot live up to their own or others’ expectations of new motherhood. These thoughts will cause excruciating emotional pain in a woman who is already enduring enormous physical and hormonal changes related to childbirth.

In addition, both of you are experiencing significant life style changes and adjustments now that you have a precious, but very fragile, human being you are responsible for. This, along with possible sleep deprivation, can be very taxing on your own coping, as well, as on your relationship. The tips in this handout may make it easier for you to understand how your partner is feeling, therefore helping you both through her recovery.
For your own well being, the book The Postpartum Husband. Practical Solutions for Living with Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman, MSW, is a great source. It is available on http://www.amazon.com/. If you will be ordering this book, you may also consider ordering the following books for your spouse: This Isn’t What I Expected. Overcoming Postpartum Depression. by Karen Kleiman, MSW, and Valerie Raskin, MD; and Conquering Postpartum Depression. A Proven Plan for Recovery. by Ronald Rosenberg, MD, Deborah Greening, Ph.D., and James Windell, MA.

Another very helpful resource to you may be http://www.postpartumdads.org/.

Your partner will have good days and bad days, times when she will feel more like her old self, but it doesn’t mean that she is totally recovered. These good days will become more and more with the bad days decreasing, BUT this does take time, and she will need reassurance that she will get better. During the bad days, it may be very hard for her to remember her good days and she may even feel that the bad ones are the real her. This is NOT so, it’s PPD that makes her feel like this.

It will help her enormously if you can accept these good and bad days, support her when she's feeling low, and encourage her on her good days. She will go through periods of being well and then may experience times of feeling low again. This is totally normal and is always the case with PPD. However, it can be very frustrating for you and her to see her feeling well for a time, and think that she has recovered, when, in fact, she has not. PPD is a very gradual recovery, which can take some time.

Many women will pretend to their family and friends that they are feeling better, when asked. This may be for different reasons:

She may feel that as others expect and want her to be better by now, that it's easier to pretend rather than continue to tell them how she really feels.

She may feel that she doesn't want to be a burden to others, so she will stop telling them how she really feels.
She may have been told by someone that she can expect to feel better by a certain time. If she doesn't, she may well pretend to, as this is what she thinks is expected of her. Everyone has different recovery times, some longer than others, but she WILL get better.

Solely based on her behavior, you may not necessarily be able to tell how she's feeling (many women are great at covering it up). So, by asking how she's feeling will give you a better sense and give her an opportunity to tell you. It may be a good idea to have five minutes every evening for you to tell each other how your day went without interruption from the other.

Remember that both your lives have changed since the birth of your baby. You may now be the sole earner, which may feel as significant stress on you. You may feel left out at times as she may only seem to have time for the baby. You may think she is more competent than you when dealing with the baby and possibly feel that you can never get it right whatever you do to try to help. If they don't give you the reaction you were expecting, don't give up, try again another time. They may have been having a bad day.

Your partner may find her role boring, frustrating, having endless chores to be done without having much adult company during the day. Even when she sees others for coffee etc, she may not be able to have a conversation without being interrupted, thrown up on, having to change a diaper, breastfeed, etc. These are all demands made upon her, which will be made worse by her PPD. She may begin to resent the fact that you can go out to work, get on with your job, eat your lunch, take a shower, etc, without being interrupted or having to watch the baby nonstop.

She may want some caring affection from you without necessarily making love. Being a new mother is physically and emotionally draining and she may well feel that the demands of the baby are so great that she doesn't have much reserve left for you. Try not to take this as rejection. She can still be loving and caring towards you, especially if she feels that demands aren't being made on her.

You may want to talk about this together, have some time (if possible) just for yourselves. You can still have emotional and physical love for each other without having sex, if either of you doesn't feel like it.
Finally, remember, PPD takes time to recover from. She will be her old self again and things will get better for you both.


Cook a meal or, better still, take her out, if she feels up to it.

Take the baby (and your other children) out, even if it's only for a short time each week. It gives her the time she needs for herself.

Run a bath for her and tell her to relax in it.

Help her to get the children ready when all of you are going out.

Share the household chores more. Notice all the extra tasks she now, such as washing bottles or breast pump supplies.

Buy flowers or a surprise for her. Make her feel valued.

Tell her that you appreciate her, and for what. Sometimes this can mean more than 'I love you.'

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