Tips for Postpartum Partners
by Wendy Newhouse Davis, Ph.D. Counseling & Consultation
I got a crash course in PPD after the birth of my first child. I remember clearly how my husband helped, and much of that has been incorporated into the suggestions I give to others. There were many times that I was in despair in spite of his help, but I cannot imagine where I would have been without it. Everything was leading me toward recovery, even when I couldn’t see it. I know that I was buoyed up every time he acknowledged that I was working hard, told me that he thought I was a good mother, or that he loved me. I felt so relieved by his helpfulness around the house, his readiness to take care of the baby, and his suggestions that I take a walk or see a friend. I also felt remarkably better when I felt taken care of — when he took charge of dinner, stroked my hair, bought me some new music, and asked how I was feeling. I always felt that he believed in me and trusted that I would get better with time, confidence, and support.
A postpartum mom needs verbal reassurance, physical affection without the expectation of sex, listening, and a partner in housework. She needs to hear that she’s doing a good job. You can remind her of the realities you learned about in childbirth preparation (e.g., that it’s normal for postpartum life to be hard, but it will get easier.) Don’t expect her to be super-housewife just because she’s home all day. You are probably going back to work; she has a brand new job at home. Spend time alone with your baby, to develop your own confidence. Use the phone numbers for postpartum support if you have any questions about PPD. Find ways to take breaks yourself, and develop sources of support for you. If you can, be flexible with your schedule. Do your best to realistically gauge and tell her when you will be home.
Anger and irritability are common symptoms of postpartum depression (as they are with PMS). If the anger is making it hard to stay supportive, you might say, “I want to listen to you. I know this is important, but the way you’re talking to me isn’t working. Can we take a break and talk about it later, when it is easier for us both to talk?” Don’t just shut down; real damage will be done to a relationship if you stop communicating. Verbalize your feelings instead of distancing from her. Tell her, “I know we can work this out.”
Ask her how you can help right now. If she doesn’t know, make some suggestions. Give practical as well as emotional support. Encourage her to take breaks. If it is hard for her to be away from the baby, start with short breaks and build up. Breaks are a necessity; fatigue is a major contributing factor to worsening symptoms. Schedule dates with her.
You will get through this. She will get better. It won’t be all at once or right away, but if you stick to a plan of care, support, and communication, things will keep improving. Expect that she may have rough days for a while, even after she looks like she is “on her feet again”. The graph of recovery is not a straight line; it has ups and downs that get smaller with time.
A depressed or anxious mom will take time to recover. Postpartum depression will not last forever, but neither will it go away quickly. Just because she is not all better does not mean that you are not helping. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. It is very frustrating when a mom remains distressed even after your support and encouragement. Even if she is not through the depression yet, you are helping her with every kind word, every turn with the baby or the dishes, every time you remind her that she will get through this.
How can you help?
- Encourage her to talk about her feelings, and do not judge them.
- Help her cope (practically and emotionally). Pitch-in before she asks.
- Help her reach out.
- Offer reassurance, positive feedback, and patience.
- Carry the faith in her strength and recovery.