When you think about building a family, you may think pregnancy is the “hard part,” not realizing that the postpartum period can have its own unique joys and hurdles. Adjusting to life after pregnancy can be challenging and can hugely impact the mental health of the birthing parent.
As a partner, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of common postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) like postpartum depression and anxiety. It is often difficult for people suffering from PMADs to communicate because of the nature of the disorders and how stigmatized and isolated they can feel. But the truth is, postpartum depression and anxiety are common, with 14% of new parents experiencing postpartum depression and 10% of new parents experiencing postpartum anxiety. This can sound frightening, but these disorders are very treatable when diagnosed early—which is why you can play a crucial role in helping your loved one get through this. We talked to Maven Mental Health Specialist Tamar Stern for tips and strategies to support partners as they navigate postpartum depression and anxiety.
How can a partner distinguish between postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression, and “baby blues?”
During the postpartum period, 85% of women experience some variation of a mood disorder. With the jarring change in routine, lack of sleep, and new identity, it’s hard to feel like yourself during the start of the postpartum period. Four in five new parents experience “baby blues” in the first two weeks after giving birth, which includes feelings of sadness, anxiety, or impatience. “It’s normal to cry a lot or experience mood swings in the first two weeks,” Stern explains. But if baby blues continues past the first two weeks, it may mean that your partner is suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety.
There are subtle but important differences between postpartum depression and anxiety. Postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness, while postpartum anxiety can be diagnosed by excessive worry and fear about the health and well-being of the baby and oneself. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- Excessive sadness that lasts more than 2 weeks
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Disrupted eating or sleep
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of postpartum anxiety can include:
- Inability to relax
- Racing thoughts about worst-case scenarios
- Obsessing over irrational fears or unlikely scenarios
- Difficulty focusing
- Disrupted sleep
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Nausea, loss of appetite, or stomach aches
- Feeling unable to breathe
- Muscle tension
- Feeling overly cautious or controlling
How can a partner be supportive during postpartum depression or anxiety?
If your partner is dealing with postpartum anxiety or depression, it’s important to be as supportive as possible and help them get treatment. This may involve physically taking your partner to the doctor and discussing their symptoms in a non-judgmental way. “You can start by going to the OB-GYN if they’re comfortable with them, or they can go to a therapist,” Stern says. “They may also need a psychiatric consult. A lot of times, people don’t want to take medication, but there are safe medications for people who are breastfeeding. They should also look into psychotherapy and medication.”
Try to listen actively to your partner’s needs as you seek treatment for them, and be patient. Recovery takes time, but your open-minded support can be an essential part of their healing.
Here are a few other ways you can provide support:
- Help them prioritize sleep: Sleep is incredibly important for new parents—and can be easily disrupted when taking care of a newborn. “Many people feel like they can’t ask for help if they’re breastfeeding, because they’re on call every few hours,” explains Stern. Any way that you can help your partner sleep, especially in the first month, is very important. One way to do this is for your partner to pump milk so you can feed the baby and share nighttime baby duties to make sure your partner sleeps enough.
- Explain their condition to family and friends in an appropriate way: Talk to your partner about how they want you to describe what they’re going through and what they would prefer to keep private. Talking about what is going on at home can help you process during a hard time, but make sure to respect your partner's wishes and privacy.
- Take responsibility for tasks: Offer practical help with household chores like cleaning, cooking, and childcare. “Especially if someone is depressed, it can be very hard to be the one in charge,” Stern says. Taking the lead on coordinating things can communicate that you are a team and that your partner isn’t managing the newborn alone.
- Encourage self-care: Encourage activities that make your partner feel happy and rejuvenated, whether it’s exercise, hobbies, or socializing. At the very least, making sure they have time to shower and do a few things for themselves every day can make a big difference.
What should you say (or not say) to someone suffering from postpartum anxiety or depression?
It can be hard to know exactly what to say when your partner has postpartum anxiety and depression. Here are some do’s and don’ts for how to speak with them about their condition:
- Be clear that you have hope. Treatment for these conditions is incredibly effective and with your support, your partner will get better.
- Validate their feelings. Let them know you understand this is hard.
- Take it seriously. Listen actively, reflect back their concerns, and ask questions.
- Get them help when they need it or ask for it. It’s always better to get checked out than not, and earlier treatment for postpartum anxiety and depression is often more effective.
- Blame them. “A partner should never be blaming the birthing parent,” said Stern. “You should really be helping them understand that this is a hormonal, neurological experience that isn’t their fault.”
- Minimize their concerns. Don’t tell them they’ll “get over it,” “get used to it,” or that “this is how it is.”
- Diminish their experience. Don’t say things like, “You’re just anxious” or “You’re just depressed.” These types of statements can feel invalidating in an already confusing time.
How can someone take care of themselves while also caring for their partner and new baby?
Remember, caring for your partner can be emotionally and physically taxing, so be sure to take care of yourself as well. “It’s hard for everybody in the newborn period,” says Stern. “And it’s really hard to know that somebody you care about is having a mental health challenge.” Make an effort to get support from family, friends, and your providers. Don’t hesitate to ask providers—from your OB-GYN to a pediatrician to Maven Mental Health specialists—any questions you have. “You have no idea what normal is as a new parent,” Stern explains. “Ask the professionals, don’t Google. Because you can really scare yourself by Googling. It’s not a way to diagnose anything, especially mental health.” If you’re lucky enough to have in-person physical support, don’t be afraid to be direct and ask for the specific things you need, from cooking and cleaning to childcare.
What does treatment for postpartum depression look like? What does treatment for postpartum anxiety look like?
Treatment for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety is extremely effective and often involves psychotherapy, antidepressants, and social support like online or local groups. No SSRIs have been specifically FDA-approved for postpartum depression, but paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft) have been studied for postpartum treatment and are often prescribed to new parents. For postpartum anxiety, commonly prescribed medications include SSRIs like sertraline (Zoloft) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Even if you’re nursing, the benefits of SSRIs for postpartum depression and anxiety outweigh the risks overall. Sertraline is commonly prescribed as less of it passes into the milk but make sure to talk to your provider about nursing on medication. “People should always consider medication as a tool and talk to their doctors about safety, so they make educated and safe decisions,” explains Stern. “A partner can really be involved in researching to make sure that they both feel comfortable.”
How Maven supports families dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety
Communication and understanding between partners are essential to overcome postpartum depression and anxiety. Encourage your partner to continue to seek help for as long as they have symptoms. If your partner is struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, speak with your doctor or sign up for Maven to get access to Mental Health Providers and other on-demand postpartum care.
- Help your partner recognize the change you're seeing in them. Take a moment to learn how the baby blues differ from postpartum depression and anxiety. ...
- Encourage your partner to talk to a doctor. ...
- Offer to help out in specific ways.
PPD is a family illness, says Karen Kleiman, MSW, LSW, director of the Postpartum Stress Center, which has locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And, it can affect your relationship for years to come. “It is so isolating and self-absorbing for moms, that we often forget that dad is a big player here.What husbands need to know about postpartum? ›
- Post-partum recovery can take weeks or months. While labor only lasts a matter of hours or days, recovery from the trauma of childbirth takes much longer. ...
- Physical and emotional changes. ...
- Moms experience a change of identity. ...
- Recognize the signs of post-partum depression.
All that makes for a messy transition to this new phase of life. Between hormones, physical discomfort after birth, and a complete upheaval of your daily routine, it's perfectly normal to feel resentful of a partner who gets to walk about pain-free without breastmilk-stained shirts or a child clinging to his body.How long does a PPD take to go away? ›
Because PPD can appear anywhere from a couple of weeks to 12 months after birth, there's no average length of time it lasts. A 2014 review of studies suggests that PPD symptoms improve over time, with many cases of depression resolving 3 to 6 months after they begin.Does PPD get worse over time? ›
The condition is characterized by more intense feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and irritability. The symptoms are longer lasting and may occur anytime within the first year. It often affects a woman's ability to function, and without medical attention, the symptoms may worsen.What puts a woman at higher risk for PPD? ›
✦ A summary review identified 25 statistically significant risk factors for PPD, including high life stress, lack of social support, current or past abuse, prenatal depression, and marital or partner dissatisfaction.What not to say to postpartum? ›
- It's just baby blues; all new moms feel that way.
- You just need a massage.
- Stop worrying.
- You're baby is healthy — you should be happy!
- Everything will be fine.
The length of time for PPD recovery varies. For mild cases, some women recover in two weeks while others may take several months. Severe cases of PPD can last six months or longer.Is PPD a form of PTSD? ›
What are PPD and PTSD? At first glance, postpartum depression and PTSD may not seem related. But preexisting conditions, past trauma, and aspects of the birthing experience may increase the chances of developing either or both conditions.
Prepare for the 5-5-5 rule: 5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed, 5 days near the bed. This gives you a solid two weeks of focused intentional rest. It also helps to get your priorities in order when it comes to those eager visitors. They will get to see the baby, but they don't get to make the rules.What is the rule of 5 postpartum? ›
It suggests that you spend the first five days in bed: get up only to use the toilet and maybe grab a shower. Spend the next five days on your bed: spend most of your time napping or resting with your sweet babe, but feel free to move with baby to the couch or a comfy chair outside once or twice during the day.How do men deal with postpartum? ›
Using one or a combination of therapies may help fathers cope during pregnancy and the stressful postpartum period: Psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Couples therapy, especially if both parents are depressed or the relationship is suffering. Medication that works on the mind, behavior, or mood.Why do I feel disconnected from my husband postpartum? ›
Ask for help. Tell your partner you're struggling. Seek counseling (I'm all about online counseling; the more accessible mental health care becomes, the better), and talk to your doctor about how you're feeling. If you haven't already, this is something your OB will want to discuss with you at your postpartum check-up.Why do men lose interest after childbirth? ›
There are many reasons mothers might not be into it, but fathers can also find their sex drive vanishes. They can be traumatised by watching the birth, they fear that they might hurt their partners, they might be depressed. Nobody has much time or energy. "Your sex life is not going to be as it was," Hayes says.Can PPD lead to divorce? ›
Like several other mental health conditions, the symptoms of PPD can cause tension and conflict in a marriage. They can lead to divorce if left untreated. The national conversation surrounding mental health has begun to chip away at the social stigma surrounding PPD.What can happen if PPD is left untreated and undiagnosed? ›
Left untreated, postpartum depression can interfere with mother-child bonding and cause family problems. For mothers. Untreated postpartum depression can last for months or longer, sometimes becoming an ongoing depressive disorder.What are the three stages of postpartum? ›
- Acute Phase: 24 hours immediately following delivery.
- Sub-Acute Phase: can last 2-6 weeks following delivery.
- Late Phase: can last from 6 weeks - 6 months following delivery.
It's strong feelings of sadness, anxiety (worry) and tiredness that last for a long time after giving birth. These feelings can make it hard for you to take care of yourself and your baby. PPD can happen any time after childbirth. It often starts within 1 to 3 weeks of having a baby.Why am I not attracted to my husband after having a baby? ›
If you're feeling less than lusty after having a baby, you're not alone. “It's completely normal for both women and men's libido to hit a rock-bottom low during the first six to nine months following the birth of your baby,” says L.A. ob-gyn Sheryl Ross, MD.
Baby blues are the mood swings you may experience after the birth of your baby that can result in unexplained crying and feelings of sadness, anxiety or irritability. Drops in estrogen, progesterone, and hormones produced by the thyroid gland can trigger these symptoms, but luckily, they don't last forever.Who is at highest risk for PPD? ›
The risk for postpartum depression is highest among first-time mothers, mothers younger than 25 years old and mothers of twins, according to a survey of more than 1.1 million moms worldwide.Who does PPD affect the most? ›
Postpartum depression most commonly occurs within 6 weeks after childbirth. PPD occurs in about 6.5% to 20% of women. It occurs more commonly in adolescent females, mothers who deliver premature infants, and women living in urban areas.Can PPD be triggered? ›
No one knows what triggers postpartum depression (PPD). It probably does not have a single cause. It likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors. It's important to know, though, that postpartum depression does not occur because of something a mother does or does not do.What is worse than PPD? ›
However, it is more severe than postpartum depression. The symptoms usually emerge within the first few days or weeks after delivery and are characterized by the severe, often shocking, mood shifts that are similar to rapid-cycling bipolar moods.
Postpartum depression is often treated with psychotherapy — also called talk therapy or mental health counseling — medicine or both. Psychotherapy. It may help to talk through your concerns with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional.What are the biggest factors of postnatal depression? ›
- a history of mental health problems, particularly depression, earlier in life.
- a history of mental health problems during pregnancy.
- having no close family or friends to support you.
- a difficult relationship with your partner.
- recent stressful life events, such as a bereavement.
The 40-day period is called the lochial period, from 'lochia' the normal vaginal discharge of cell debris and blood after birth. The Bible says “40 days” for the vaginal discharge resulting from involution and can also be described as the red lochia, lasting 4–6 weeks .What is the 6 week postpartum rule? ›
Many health care providers recommend waiting 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth to give your body time to heal before you have sex. When you're ready for sex, be careful – you can get pregnant even before your period starts. This is because you may ovulate (release an egg) before you get your period again.How important is postpartum rest? ›
The first few weeks after delivery are an important time for you to rest whenever you can. Try and sleep or rest when your baby sleeps. This rest will help you recover. Avoiding heavy lifting: You should avoid lifting anything that's heavier than your baby while you're recovering.
Postpartum anxiety can happen at any time in the first 12 months following childbirth. It is reported to affect about 1 in 5 new mothers. But postpartum anxiety is likely even more common than that because parents don't always talk about it, and doctors don't always ask about it.How does PPD affect daily life? ›
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that affects women after childbirth. Like clinical depression, postpartum depression causes women to experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and exhaustion that can make it difficult for them to fulfill daily needs and care for themselves and others.Can PPD be lifelong? ›
Left untreated, post-partum depression can persist for months or years. Mothers with long-term undiagnosed post-partum depression may fail to connect with their babies, which can cause babies problems with eating and sleeping, as well as mental health and behavioral issues that can persist throughout their lifetime.What is PPD personality type? ›
Paranoid personality disorder (PPD) is a mental health condition marked by a pattern of distrust and suspicion of others without adequate reason to be suspicious. People with PPD are always on guard, believing that others are constantly trying to demean, harm or threaten them.What is the difference between PPD and PPD? ›
Perinatal depression (PND) is a term sometimes used interchangeably with postpartum depression (PPD), but it typically refers to major or minor depression that starts during pregnancy or up to 12 months postpartum (5).What mental illness is PPD? ›
Paranoid personality disorder (PPD) is a mental condition in which a person has a long-term pattern of distrust and suspicion of others. The person does not have a full-blown psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia.What is the 15 day rule for postpartum? ›
The 555 postpartum rule is a great guideline that suggests five days in bed, five days on the bed, and five days around the bed, adding up to 15 days of taking it easy and allowing yourself to recover gently during this time.What are the 7 Bs of postpartum assessment? ›
The nurse can remember the key points of a postpartum assessment by learning the acronym BUBBLE-LE, which stands for breasts, uterus, bladder, bowels, episiotomy, lower extremities, and emotions.How long should you rest postpartum? ›
It is going to need time to recover. Your postpartum recovery won't be just a few days. Fully recovering from pregnancy and childbirth can take months. While many women feel mostly recovered by 6-8 weeks, it may take longer than this to feel like yourself again.What is the 5 11 rule? ›
Other ways to recognize labor:
The 5-1-1 Rule: The contractions come every 5 minutes, lasting 1 minute each, for at least 1 hour. Fluids and other signs: You might notice amniotic fluid from the sac that holds the baby. This doesn't always mean you're in labor, but could mean it's coming.
What does lying in mean? Lying in is sometimes called pre- or postpartum confinement. It's a practice where a pregnant person limits their movement before and after birth in order to reduce the risk of pregnancy or postpartum complications, such as preterm labor or bleeding.How do I love my partner after having a baby? ›
- Listen and Be Patient with Your Partner. ...
- Share Your Responsibilities. ...
- Let Others Help You. ...
- Have a Date Night. ...
- Enjoy Time as a Family. ...
- Remember It's Just a Season.
- Create a new "normal" ...
- Get used to a lack of sleep. ...
- Keep an eye on her mood. ...
- Be good to yourself. ...
- Be good to her. ...
- Divide and conquer. ...
- Be patient when it comes to sex. ...
- Talk it out.
Effects on the family
Depressed parents may be less affectionate and responsive with the child and show irritability, apathy or even hostility toward their infant, which leads to an insecure attachment. During this time, increased stress on the relationship can complicate the marriage or partnership as well.
Untreated postpartum depression can last for months or longer, sometimes becoming an ongoing depressive disorder. Mothers may stop breastfeeding, have problems bonding with and caring for their infants, and be at increased risk of suicide.Can PPD turn into bipolar? ›
Postpartum depression doesn't cause bipolar disorder. Depression is a symptom of postpartum bipolar disorder, and for many women, it's the first recognized symptom after giving birth. Because of this, many women with postpartum bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed with unipolar PPD rather than postpartum bipolar disorder.What is the leading cause of PPD? ›
A stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, such as job loss, death of a loved one, domestic violence, or personal illness. Medical complications during childbirth, including premature delivery or having a baby with medical problems.What is the strongest predictor of paternal PPD? ›
Maternal depression was identified as the strongest predictor of paternal depression during the postpartum period.”How long are you considered postpartum? ›
The first six weeks after giving birth are known as the postpartum period. This period is an intense time that requires all sorts of care for you and your baby.What happens to the brain during PPD? ›
Like other forms of depression, postpartum depression (PPD) is often associated with a neurotransmitter imbalance. Many new mothers with PPD have low serotonin or norepinephrine levels in the brain that are aggravated by nutritional deficiencies.
Although the experience is unpleasant, the condition usually subsides within two weeks without treatment. The best thing you can do is find support and ask for help from friends, family or your partner.