Postnatal depression should be taken seriously. A father’s support during this challenging time can help with recovery, and also strengthen your partnership and family.
What is postnatal depression (PND)? Many new parents often find themselves wondering about this concept pre-birth of their child and also whether they should be worried about it.
PND is a clinical depression that often occurs after childbirth. It can happen during pregnancy for some women, and up to 12 months after giving birth. Sources share that potentially, 1 in 7 women to 1 in 10 women can be affected by this mental condition.
From a condition and symptom perspective, women that are suffering from postnatal depression experience anxiety, tiredness and sadness. There is no consensus on whether the condition is suddenly triggered by some external stimulus or that it ‘creeps’ up on the mother.
Signs and symptoms also vary person by person. A basic list of signs include the following:
- Challenges in concentrating or focusing
- Depression coupled with a loss of interest or deriving of pleasure from things that used to provide interest or pleasure
- Easily agitated
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Feelings of being inadequate (for example, to the ideal of being a mother, or in comparison to other mothers)
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling guilt
- Loss of energy or a heavy fatigue that does not go away with rest
Fathers have to stay alert during this time, despite working through the experience of being a new parent. A baby naturally brings along adjustment and adapting to new routines and the relationship. It can be overwhelming, and emotional.
Fathers also have to be more understanding during this period regardless of PND but especially if there is a PND condition involved.
It is important to point out that this is not a condition that you and your partner should tackle on your own. Only a doctor or trained healthcare worker can diagnose PND. The doctor will evaluate your partner’s symptoms and determine if you are experiencing PND, baby blues, depression or other conditions. This will be followed by a treatment plan created with input from you and your partner.
Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and determine if you are experiencing baby blues, depression, or something else—and create a plan for treatment.
Doctors have shared a traditional barrier to mothers getting treatment for postnatal depression has been the mother herself. Some mothers might feel ashamed and retreat into silence, or not share about the symptoms they are experience. The assumption that new mothers should all be happy often contributes to their silence. Fathers should pay attention to these behaviours and where necessary, involve a doctor as early as possible.
What can fathers do to help their partners with postnatal depression?
Get educated about postnatal depression
Read, research, understand what PND is and how it might show up. The best time for this is during pregnancy before the condition appears. Save the links in an easily accessible online folder, or print and keep them in a folder. Talk to other fathers who might have gone through supporting their partners through a PND episode. Learn what worked for them. These become options for you to fall back on if your partner does get PND.
Be clear about your role in supporting your partner
You are not a doctor and you are not a therapist (unless you are professionally trained to be; but you might still benefit from being an arm’s length away) and therefore not responsible to treat the condition.
You can help by making sure your partner sees a doctor for diagnosis, turns up for medical appointments, takes medication (if required) or follow-up on complementary activities that she can do.
Instead of trying to do what you are not trained for, focus on what you can do to support your partner.
- Create and maintain her ‘safe space’ where she understands and trusts that she can express her feelings without having to defend or be judged.
- Help her understand that she is not to blame for PND, and that you do not blame her.
- Remind her that this condition is temporary and it can be treated with help from the doctor and medication (if required).
- Reinforce empathy and hold back the need to find a solution.
Be available for your partner
The family is the team and fathers do not let their team down by leaving the mother to handle PND on her own. Being available can take on many forms. In this age of WFH and remote working, plan and block off some slots to grab lunch together, tidy up the house, take a walk with the baby, help with the clothes and many other simple activities. The key here is not for fathers to take over doing all the chores, but to demonstrate that you are physically around the home, and that your partner does not need to feel alone and isolated.
Help your partner find some time for herself
There are huge expectations and responsibilities that mothers saddle themselves with. Whether it is about providing the best environment for their baby, or the ability to breastfeed in volume naturally, and even the instinct to snap awake when baby coos; these all contribute to a big deficit of ‘alone time’ and space for the mother to do other things that make up her life.
This ‘loss’ of her pre-baby identity might be uncomfortable and contribute to her PND condition. Help her find time and space to take a break, meet with friends, continue on her hobby or sport even if it is just for a few short hours or a few days a week. Use that time to load up on ‘daddy time’ with the baby.
Help mummy catch up on sleep
PND might manifest as insomnia and coupled with a baby’s erratic sleeping and feeding schedule can result in your partner getting very little sleep overall. While there is no doubt about fathers ever taking over breastfeeding, other baby duties such as cleaning after feeding, carry-rocking to sleep, can be taken over. Build your partner some ‘sleep space’ so she can catch up on some reparative sleep.
Tell your partner she is a good mother
Some mothers might feel inadequate or suffer impostor syndrome or that they are not doing the right thing for their child. This is when you have to step in, and tell them truthfully that they are good mothers and doing the best they can, with what they know and feel.
Do not just state the obvious “You are a good mother”. Tell them why and how you have seen her be tough and resilient. Explain with examples that demonstrate her persistence and the sacrifices she has borne for your family and baby.