Having a baby is supposed to be exciting and bring joy to your life. Sure, everyone knows the first few weeks of having a newborn at home brings sleep deprivation and trying to figure out how to handle this little person you’ve got now, but most people don’t associate having a baby with severe depression and anxiety for the new mother.
Unfortunately, that’s a huge problem.
Having “baby blues” immediately after giving birth is very common among new mothers, and includes feelings of anxiety, tearfulness, irritation and restlessness. These symptoms usually resolve a week or two after giving birth. It’s when these symptoms don’t resolve–or get worse–and it’s been a month or more since the baby was born. This is when post-partum depression gets diagnosed.
How do you know if your partner is having post-partum depression?
First, let’s look at some risk factors. According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, your partner might be at a higher risk for post-partum depression if she:
- Is under age 20
- Currently abuses alcohol, take illegal substances, or smokes
- Did not plan the pregnancy, or had mixed feelings about the pregnancy
- Had depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder before her pregnancy, or with a previous pregnancy
- Had a stressful event during the pregnancy or delivery, including personal illness, death or illness of a loved one, a difficult or emergency delivery, premature delivery, or illness or birth defect in the baby
- Has a close family member who has had depression or anxiety
- Has a poor relationship with you, her partner
- Has financial problems (low income, inadequate housing)
- Has little support from family and friends
The symptoms of post-partum depression are similar to those of typical depression: sadness, crying, low energy, fatigue, changes in appetite, lack of pleasure in life activities, significant anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.
Symptoms specific to post-partum depression include:
- Being unable to care for herself or her baby
- Being afraid to be alone with her baby
- Having negative feelings toward the baby or even think about harming the baby (Although these feelings are scary, they are almost never acted on. Still, your partner should tell her doctor about them right away.)
- Worrying intensely about the baby, or have little interest in the baby
What can you, as the supportive partner, do to help?
- First, encourage your partner to talk to her doctor. Post-partum depression is common and relatively easy to treat, but it does need to be treated. If it is not treated, in some cases, the depression can morph into post-partum psychosis, which is a medical emergency. Untreated post-partum depression can also lead into future episodes of depression, should your partner become pregnant again.
- Talk with your partner about how you can help. What does she need right now? Is it time alone or with friends, without the baby? More sleep? Time with you? A better balance between the two of you of all the responsibilities? Outside help from others?
- Encourage your partner to join a post-partum depression support group or another group that includes new mothers. Being around other people who are experiencing what she is can help to ease her worries, and provide validation of her feelings and experiences.
- Practice healthy habits as a couple. When your partner is medically cleared to exercise again, take the baby out for a walk together, or encourage your partner to exercise on her own while you watch the baby. Have healthy foods in the house, and avoid using alcohol. Sleep when the baby sleeps, but also take turns getting up at night.
- Remind your partner–as many times as it takes–that having post-partum depression does not mean she is (or will be) a “bad mother.” Post-partum depression is caused by many things, none of which are your partner’s fault, and it can be treated. When your partner is depressed, she will have trouble seeing that things will ever get better, but with your support and appropriate treatment, it can get better.