So, you’ve just gotten home from the hospital with your new baby and you’re excited for the future. But your partner seems tired, dissociated, and aloof. You understand she has just been through a lot, so you give it a couple of days. A few of days later, however, she’s still the same — despondent, upset, and low. A doctor or maybe some of the books you read suggested Postpartum Depression might be the reason. Now that you know what’s causing it, there are a few things you can do to help your partner get through this difficult time. Let’s review the basics:
What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
Let’s start at the top. PPD is a form of depression characterized by:
- Crying/sadness/mood swings
- Fluctuations in sleeping and eating patterns
For some mothers, these disappear in 24 to 72 hours. For others, these last more than two weeks — that’s when it becomes an issue.
How to Help with Postpartum Depression
Now that you understand the symptoms of postpartum depression, you want to be as supportive as possible. If you have no idea where to start, here are four simple steps.
1. Be with her
The easiest thing to do is to be with her, as feelings of loneliness could do harm. Show her you will be dealing with this together. This might be especially hard if she doesn’t want to talk, is detached, or doesn’t engage you in any form. Try to remind yourself during times like these that you don’t want her to feel postpartum depression is something she has to handle by herself. When possible, try to simply sit with her for at least five minutes to be physically present. If she’s open to it, show some physical support. Hold her hand, give her a hug, or just hold her.
2. Be present
Listen to her when you’re with her; demonstrate that you are present and involved. Some great ways to do that are by making eye contact when she’s speaking and making sure the TV is not running in the background or you’re scrolling through your phone. Do your best to show there’s nothing else you would rather give your attention to. If there’s room for you to speak, make her feel heard by saying “I hear what you’re saying” or “What I hear is [quote what she said]”. If you have any solutions, share them later when she’s not expressing her frustrations. Sometimes she just needs to vent.
3. Encourage her
Tell her this is something she will get through. Express affirmations and reassurances — she needs to hear those right now, even if you think they’re a given. Here are some suggestions on things to say:
- Tell her she’s not a bad mother and that you can see she’s doing her best.
- Say you can see how hard she is working, and you can step in if she feels a little overwhelmed.
- Tell her the baby is safe and protected, that it will be fine.
- Assure her that mistakes are completely normal, and you’re both learning as you go.
- And very importantly, tell her you love her!
4. Find other forms of support for her
Sometimes, your partner might not feel comfortable talking to you or having you around. Other times, you might not be able to be around because you have to run an errand or have to go to work. Forming a complete support system by including her friends and family could be really helpful for both you and your partner during times like these. Take it upon yourself to contact the people who are important to her as she might not. Suggest they pop by for a visit or give her a call.
Other Simple Ways to Help
At times, little gestures can go a long way. They can prove you’re there for her in more ways than just emotionally. Here are some simple and quick ways to do that:
- Learn what you can about PPD.
- Help around the house by loading the laundry or the dishwasher or by taking care of dinner.
- Make sure she’s taking her food, medications, and getting some uninterrupted sleep.
- If she’s taking it out on you and it’s hard for you to bear, remind yourself it’s not about you. Don’t lash back at her.
- Ask her if there’s anything else you can do.
Don’t Do This
There might be some things you might want to say with the best of intentions, but they can be counterproductive for her emotional recovery or taken the wrong way. Here are some examples:
- Don’t exclude her from important decisions, as she will feel unwanted or unworthy.
- Never tell her this is simply a phase that will go away.
- Don’t invalidate her feelings by saying she would feel better if she worked, got out of the house, lost some weight, spent more time with the baby, etc.
- Never make it about yourself by telling her you can’t cope with her being this way.
- Don’t show signs of impatience.
At the end of the day, you’re only human too. Don’t negate your own wellbeing during this process. Ask for all the help and information you need. This is not a form of weakness; it just makes you better informed and capable of supporting your partner during this difficult time. Remember to take some time for yourself as well. If you can, reach out to other dads and families who have been through this to have your own support system!