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How to help a partner with postpartum depression or anxiety

Postpartum depression can be scary for a new mom and her partner.

April 24, 2017

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Does your partner seem extra emotional after the birth of your baby? They’re certainly not the only one to feel that way.

Seven out of ten women experience the baby blues. That means it’s pretty normal for a new mom to feel short periods of ups and downs in the first weeks after giving birth.

However, one in seven women experience postpartum depression. And even more − 1 in 5 − experience postpartum anxiety. It’s also important to know that postpartum depression and anxiety aren’t just for women! One in ten new dads experience a depression after their child is born. And if a mom has postpartum depression, then her partner has a 40 percent chance of being depressed, too.

“Having a baby is a major life change. And anytime our lives are thrown up in the air by something new, our mental health can be affected,” Park Nicollet psychologist Gabrielle Mauren, PhD, LP, says. “A baby brings a lot of adjustment to a parent’s routines and relationships. Every day I see moms and dads who feel overwhelmed by all those shifts, even though on another level, they’re thrilled to be a parent.”

While it’s natural for moms as well as dads to be extra emotional after a baby is born, postpartum depression is real. And it can be serious. But Dr. Mauren wants you to know that it can get better, and that it will with proper support. Here she explains 3 things you can do:

1. 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. You can also see what a postpartum depression screening questionnaire looks like here. That’s a tool doctors can use to determine if your partner’s symptoms match up with postpartum depression.

If you think your partner might have postpartum depression or anxiety, help them recognize the change in their personality or behavior. It is important to do this with concrete examples. For example, say your partner normally enjoys a weekly phone conversation with her sister but lately she’s been skipping it to sit alone with the baby. In this instance you could say, “I’ve noticed you haven’t talked to your sister in a while. How are you feeling?” This can help open up the conversation in a non-accusatory way.

2. Encourage your partner to talk to a doctor

The best way for a person with postpartum depression or anxiety to get better is to get help from a therapist or psychiatrist. So the sooner you can get your partner in to see a doctor, the sooner that process can begin. Your partner’s OB-GYN or midwife can help refer her to a clinician if needed. And your baby’s pediatrician can actually make a referral, too.

If your partner still seems overwhelmed, you can help out by saying, “Let’s go talk to the doctor together.” You can join her at that next appointment to bring up the topic and make sure she gets screened for postpartum depression and anxiety. And partners will often come along for the first mental health appointment. Feeling supported by her family and friends is an essential part of a new mom getting better.

3. Offer to help out in specific ways

Even with professional treatment, your partner is still going to need your help to get better. The more support she receives, the better her chances of getting well even faster.

When someone is struggling with depression, they may find it harder to make decisions. And someone with anxiety may want to do everything themselves. So simply asking your partner, “Can I help?” may not do the trick.

Instead, make a plan and tell your partner specifically how you’re going to help. Tell her, “I’m going to take the baby to the grocery store so you can take a nap.” Or, “I’m going to pick up dinner for us tonight on my way home.” This will make it easier for your partner to accept help. And it gives you the chance to take a real role in helping your whole family feel better.

Once someone starts treatment for postpartum depression or anxiety, they usually start to feel better in about six weeks. So focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. The steps you are taking to help your partner now are vital. Your partner will definitely appreciate your help when they’re back to feeling like their normal self!

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