What happens when the mother of your newborn child says, “I don’t think I’m supposed to feel this way, but I don’t really like our baby?” You think, “Is this the same woman that begged me to start a family just nine short months ago?” She’s just not the same since the baby was born. She seems down all the time. She doesn’t want to eat, and just wants to sleep all day. Could she have postpartum depression? If she does, what can you do?
The following five suggestions are things that husbands, fathers, family or friends can do to help when Mom experiences postpartum depression.
- Realize it’s biological.
Postpartum depression is a diagnosable, acute mental health disorder. It is classified by the same criteria as a Major Depressive Episode, only it is preceded by the birth of a child. Shortly after the birth of a child, there are severe significant changes in a woman’s body. Numerous doctors have pointed out that drastic changes in hormones, blood volume and pressure, cardiovascular, immune system, and metabolic functions may all contribute to changes in emotional and mental stability. These changes may have a significant influence on feelings of fatigue and depression. All body systems contribute to how our brains function, and how we, in turn, perceive the world. As a husband, it is important to understand these changes and not blame the mother, or demand that she “just change her attitude.”
- Realize biology is not independent of environment.
The fact that her feelings have been influenced by biology that is beyond her control does not mean that she is doomed to be depressed forever. Biology can be influenced by environment, relationships, life style, and stressors that are within her spectrum of control. Biology can be altered through various practices including, exercises, medications, vitamins, and therapies, as well as naturopathic or holistic methods. Talk to your wife about what is going on in an understanding tone, and talk to your doctor or others who have experienced postpartum. There are resources online and within your communities where you can find help.
- Treat her with kindness and patience.
A mother experiencing postpartum depression is dealing with enough inner turmoil; she does not need extra from external sources. A husband can be a source of comfort and support in a world that may not care, or even know that the woman is having trouble with depression. SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has produced a whole campaign, entitled “What a difference a friend makes,” because research shows that a healthy support network of family and friends can be one of the most important elements of overcoming depression. Also, talking in soft tones and kind words can make all the difference in the world.
- Provide some baby-respite care.
Chances are your wife is slightly overwhelmed by the demands of her new baby. You can help ease some of those feelings of stress. When the baby cries, needs a diaper change, or just needs to be held, you can step in. Time alone can provide some much needed, therapeutic relief for her. Giving her time to bathe alone or start a rejuvenating meditation practice can be very helpful. All of the ins and outs of being a new mother can also make mothers feel isolated. Here I help by providing time for Mom to go out and reconnect with other family and friends, or to take her on a date, even if it’s just for an hour or less. Help her to reconnect with herself and the people she loves.
- Provide positive opportunities for Mom to bond with the baby.
Mothers with postpartum depression often struggle to bond with their newborn. The child is a reminder of everything that scares them. Today, most mothers are very busy and will need extra help to provide quiet, uninterrupted moments to just enjoy the calm coos of their newborn child. It may be helpful for a father, partner, or relative to help with household responsibilities and other concerns the mother may have. Fathers can provide some of the care for the baby when the baby is unhappy and present the baby to the mother when the baby is sleeping or satisfied. A father may also spend time alone with the mother to simply admire and discuss the beautiful, awe-inspiring elements of the child they created together. Simply reminiscing about the happy moments can help transport us there mentally and emotionally.
The arrival of a new child is an exciting time, but it can also be scary. Husbands and others that surround Mom and baby can help to make this new transition a more joyful experience.
See the article “Loving Courageously Through Depression” to learn more about what you can do to manage depression as a parent.