Postpartum depression (PPD) is one of the most common complications of childbirth, according to Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, Director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. PPD affects from 10 to 35 percent of all moms. Although many people assume postpartum depression can occur in the first few weeks of a baby’s birth, symptoms can occur at any time within the first year of the birth. If you are someone you know may be struggling with PPD, please remember that it is treatable and temporary with professional help.
What does PPD look like?
There are countless books and articles written on this subject. Postpartum Progress has a great resource to help identify symptoms if you suspect you or your partner may be struggling with PPD.
Why does PPD happen?
Although the exact cause of postpartum depression is unknown, research has show that there is a correlation between PPD and the following stressors:
Hormonal changes - After childbirth, women experience a serious drop in estrogen and progesterone hormone levels. Thyroid levels can also drop, which leads to fatigue and depression. These rapid hormonal changes—along with the changes in blood pressure, immune system functioning, and metabolism that new mothers experience—may trigger postpartum depression.
Physical changes - Giving birth brings numerous physical and emotional changes. Mothers may be dealing with physical pain or emotional trauma from the birth. Other may be struggling to lose the baby weight. These changes could leave your partner insecure about their physical and sexual attractiveness.
Stress - The stress of caring for a newborn is hard! When this stress is combined with sleep deprivation, it can make a mother feel overwhelmed and anxious about their ability to properly care for their child. These feelings are often magnified for first time mothers and experienced mothers who think they should “have it all together”.
As a spouse/partner, what should I do?
1. Gently tell her about your concerns
If you feel your partner is suffering from PPD, talk to her. Focus on the behaviors you’ve seen (crying or inability to sleep, for example) as the reasons for your concern. Let her know that if it indeed turns out she has postpartum depression or anxiety, these illnesses are very common and treatable. Remind your partner that you will stand by her. Research shows that emotional support from a spouse is an essential factor in the recovery from postpartum depression.
2. Start working with her right away to get professional help
Studies show that the sooner women who have postpartum depression or anxiety are treated, the less negative impact their illness will have on the family. Women with postpartum depression and anxiety are often extremely fatigued and ashamed. This can make it very difficult to ask for professional help. Assist her with this. You can easily find out what resources are in your area by visiting Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) support page. PSI has coordinators in every state who will let you know about local peer support groups, specialists and other resources that may be available.
3. Support her treatment plan
There are many decisions to be made, including what type of treatment to choose, whether to continue breastfeeding … imagine trying to make these decisions while you are suffering from an illness that has “difficulty making decisions” as one of its symptoms. She needs your unwavering support. Step up.
4. Take care of yourself
We have all heard the instructions of an airline attendant reminding us to put on our own oxygen mask before we help anyone else with theirs. This advice is often cited as a metaphor for self care and it is something to keep in mind as you help your partner during an emotional and challenging time.
“When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.”