The arrival of a baby can be an exciting time for a couple, but not when it’s accompanied by a case of the “baby blues,” or postpartum depression. Are you preparing for a new addition to the family, or have you recently welcomed a new baby? You and your partner deserve for this to be a happy, fulfilling time in life. Read on for how to recognize the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, and the positive steps you can take to start feeling better.
Got a case of the blues? A mild form of Post-Partum Depression (PPD) brought on in part by hormonal changes after childbirth, the baby blues generally emerge shortly after birth and dissipate after a couple of weeks. Baby blues affect up to 80% of new mothers and is indicated by the following symptoms:
– Mood swings
– Feeling overwhelmed
– Reduced concentration
– Appetite problems
– Sleep disturbance
When Baby Blues linger and become more severe, a woman is diagnosed with Post-Partum Depression. PPD affects between 6-12% of new mothers and can last for months without treatment. PPD symptoms include:
– Depressed mood or severe mood swings
– Excessive crying
– Difficulty bonding with baby
– Emotional and social withdrawal
– Appetite disturbance
– Sleep disturbance
– Overwhelming fatigue
– Inability to feel pleasure
– Intense irritability and anger
– Fear that you’re not a good mother
– Feelings of worthlessness and shame
– Diminished ability to think clearly
– Severe anxiety and panic attacks
– Thoughts of self-harm or harming baby
– Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
When you’re feeling depressed, completing even basic tasks can seem overwhelming. But when you factor in the new tasks of child-rearing – nursing, changing endless diapers, trying to soothe a chronically fussy baby – it’ no wonder that some mothers sink into PPD quicksand.
For both men and women, becoming a parent can spur an existential crisis, especially if it triggers unresolved psychological issues: am I good enough? What is my purpose? My parents were lousy role models, will I be any better? And the pressure of knowing you are responsible for keeping a tiny person alive is daunting.
Mothers with PPD can be emotionally labile (mood swings) and withdraw. They can appear completely different than they were before the baby. Men (assuming one half of the couple is male) are “fixers” and can feel frustrated and helpless when they see their partner – who now seems like a stranger — in pain, but don’t know what to do to help. This emotional divide is difficult for both parents and can pull them apart.
Getting Through Postpartum Depression Together
But it doesn’t have to. The good news is that treatment for PPD is available. Read on to learn what you can do to get through PPD together and enjoy your new life as parents.
Acknowledge that there’s a problem. Unlike a case of the baby blues, PPD will probably not subside on its own, or will take months to do so. Don’t let the stigma surrounding mental illness keep you from getting treatment and support. There is nothing to be ashamed of! You have not failed as a mother because you have PPD; in fact, you are being a responsible parent for admitting you have a problem and seeking help.
Explore psychological and psychiatric interventions. A mild case of PPD can probably be treated with psychotherapy alone but more severe cases that involve unstoppable crying jags, inability to sleep or care for baby, and suicidal ideation will most likely require a trial of psychotropic medication. There is medication that will help alleviate the symptoms of PPD. Some mothers are reluctant to take meds that require them to stop breastfeeding. However, there is absolutely no shame in bottle-feeding. It is far more important that your baby have a healthy, responsive mother than it is for him to be breastfed.
Educate yourself about PPD. Fathers (or same-sex partners) can misunderstand their wife’s withdrawal and feel rejected, helpless, and confused. Being unable to make their wife feel better can cause men to feel that they’re failing. Take action by educating yourself about your wife’s condition. You wife’s OB, your hospital or clinic, and online support groups can provide information and resources.
Approach PPD treatment as a team effort. Have your wife sign a release of information so you can speak with her doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist. If possible, go with her to her initial appointments; this will help the mental health practitioner get a clearer idea of the extent of the problem. Support your wife by reminding her that you’re there for her and the feelings she has now will go away.
Get social support. When a mother has postpartum depression, both partners can feel isolated. But withdrawing from people who care will just make you feel more scared and alone. Your friends and family want to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ways to support a couple impacted by PPD include: bringing prepared meals, rubbing Mom’s feet, running errands, watching the baby so parents can nap, have some couple time, or get out of the house. There are also support groups – both online and real-time – available for mothers, fathers, and couples. Not sure where to look? Ask your OB, the hospital or clinic where you gave birth, your pediatrician, or visit this site to find support groups in your area. For online support, visit Online PPD Support Groups.
Practice self-care. Caring for a mother with postpartum depression is emotionally and physically draining, so fathers need to up their self-care game. Exercise, talk to friends, see a movie, ask a support person to stay with your wife and child so you can get a break. Eat regular meals and sleep when you can. If you find yourself feeling depressed and overwhelmed, consider getting your own therapy.
Successful marriages don’t happen because people are “lucky.” They happen because both people commit to making things work during hard times. If you’re struggling with PPD, get help and decide you’re going to get through this – together.