Dads: Helping Your Partner Deal With ‘Baby Blues’
So you’ve brought the little bundle home. The nursery’s decorated, baby is being fawned over, and everything is as it should be. Except it isn’t.
Your partner seems irritable, she isn’t eating properly, only sleeps in short bursts and even then infrequently and irregularly. This is normal. The hormonal and chemical changes affecting the body after childbirth are so radical that burnout is inevitable. Doctors say this period of Baby Blues lasts about a week.
If it lasts longer, your partner may have slipped into postnatal depression. This is characterised by a serious turn toward feelings of hopelessness, an inability to express joy, poor concentration, lack of interest in everyday tasks, and distance from the baby.
Growing evidence suggests that dads, too, may have Baby Blues. The risk is lower for fathers than for mothers, but it’s significant enough.
How will you cope when your partner suffers from burnout and there’s a new fully-dependent baby in your care? How does one juggle these things when facing down the barrel of Baby Blues, the Dad Edition.
Learning what to expect can provide with strategies to help you cope. In the first instance, it’ll make Postnatal Depression (PND) less alienating.
Familiarity is crucial when trying to understand what a partner is going through, especially since PND can often mimic emotional coldness. You may be on the receiving end of mood swings, communication will be difficult, and your partner will likely have good and bad days.
This inconsistency can be hard to adjust to. Nurture good days delicately so that your partner doesn’t feel guilty for not having them later on. Knowing how to recognise which days are which is the first step to knowing what you’re up against.
2. Check in often: How is she feeling?
One of the most insidious features of PND is its occasional invisibility. There is still social stigma attached to mental illness, and especially because PND manifests in emotional distance from both spouse and newborn, shame and guilt can lead your partner to try and cover up her feelings.
This is why it’s important to check in at regular intervals. This doesn’t mean a formal interrogation every time your partner seems outwardly happy. Just ask her how she’s doing. Share your own thoughts and feelings on parenthood to open a dialogue. Be honest about your anxieties and tell your partner when you’re feeling down.
It’s important for your partner to feel she isn’t alone in this. If her PND alienates you, imagine how it must feel to her. Much of her frustration will be directed inward, which can set off a cycle of self-perpetuating negativity. It’s up to you (as well as family, friends and medical professionals where necessary) to intervene. Normalise your partner’s feelings. Share in her experience.
3. Make Her Feel Valued
This one’s always relevant, not just in a relationship affected by PND. But treat your partner every now and then. On good days most people with depression yearn for comfort, and your attentiveness goes a long way.
Don’t offer “helpful” advice or condescend. Just listen, maintain eye contact, be there physically. Offer cups of tea and snacks. Surprise your partner with back rubs and little gifts.
Even regular verbal encouragement helps. PND sufferers can feel detached from their role as parents and are often overcome by feelings of guilt. Affirm and reaffirm that the situation is temporary, and remind her of what a vital, wonderful woman she is. These things count.
4. Be Prepared for the Worst of PND
Postpartum psychosis affects about 2 percent of parents with PND. Symptoms usually show between a few hours or days after childbirth.
While rare, this condition can be serious. It’s important to recognise the warning signs. These include hallucinations, delusions, mania, paranoia, restlessness, and confusion.
Sufferers are at higher risk if they have suffered from a severe mental illness in the past, or if they have a genetic predisposition toward other conditions like schizophrenia. If you recognise any of these symptoms in your partner, the sooner she can have medical intervention the better.
Another complication of PND to be aware of is Postnatal PTSD, or Postnatal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is more common and can result from the physical and emotional trauma caused by enduring childbirth. Warning signs can include flashbacks, nightmares, “edginess” and anxiety, and can appear either as an isolated condition or in conjunction with PND itself.
5. Take Care of Yourself
There’s a chance you might be suffering from PND yourself. Well, an integral part of taking care of someone else is being well enough to take care of yourself.
According to The Guardian, a ten-year-old Swedish study into PND revealed that between 4% and 10% of fathers were suffering from the condition. More recent studies have revealed it could be as high as 28%. This staggering difference underscores that social stigma surrounding mental health is more of a problem for men than women.
Men are less likely to seek treatment for depression generally. When it comes to PND, there may be a reluctance to accept that you are suffering from an illness associated with motherhood.
Swallow your pride, recognise that male PND sometimes manifests in different ways (working longer hours, increased irritability, higher alcohol intake), and seek advice. Depending on its severity, your own PND may require antidepressant treatment or behavioural adjustment in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy. Don’t be foolish. Do your partner and baby a favour, look after yourself.
The early stages of parenthood are hard. With all your new responsibilities, you and your partner will inevitably feel stretched. That’s why it’s important to look after your health, manage your time, discuss concerns with your partner, and be patient.
Parenthood is hugely rewarding, but it can take one of you longer to adjust. When that happens, the parent in good health needs to be as loving and supportive as possible. That way, you can get back to being the happy family you both wanted.