Helping a Partner experiencing Postnatal Depression

PND is a depression that comes on within 12 months of having a baby, usually during the first few weeks or months. PND is most common after a woman’s first pregnancy. It can start slowly or suddenly, and can range from very mild and transient, to severe and lingering. For most women, it passes quickly, but others will need professional help.

Symptoms of PND

The range of symptoms experienced may include:

  • low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • feelings of inadequacy and guilt
  • negative thoughts or feeling that life is meaningless
  • tearfulness and irritability
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • changes in sleeping patterns or difficulty sleeping
  • low sex drive
  • anxiety or panic attacks.

The exact causes of PND are still not known. Some contributing factors might include:

  • Physical changes – even a relatively easy birth is an overwhelming experience for a woman’s body.
  • Emotional changes – adapting to parenthood is daunting.
  • Social changes – society puts lots of demands and expectations on a new mother.

A woman with PND withdraws from everyone, including her baby. This is a symptom of the disorder and does not mean that she is a ‘bad’ mother.

PND can put an enormous strain on any relationship, even when the partner is patient, loving and supportive. Suggestions for a couple dealing with PND include:

  • Find out as much information as you can about PND.
  • Try to recognize that PND may cause relationship problems.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Try not to take each other’s moods or criticisms too personally.
  • Avoid making big decisions about your relationship or career.
  • To prevent arguments and resentments, talk about sharing the household duties.
  • Try to arrange at least an occasional night out together, away from the baby.

If you are the partner of a woman with PND, suggestions include:

  • Be patient.
  • Encourage your partner to talk about their feelings.
  • Accept that their feelings are genuine, try to understand their point of view.
  • Limit visitors if they do not feel enjoy socializing.
  • Provide emotional support, baby care and housework.
  • Tell them often that you love them and that you appreciate what they are doing.
  • Do not criticize their post-pregnancy body or suggest they lose weight.
  • Stay in touch throughout the day if you spend workdays apart.
  • Share caring for your baby to promote your parent–child relationship and give your partner a much-needed break.
  • If it worries you, encourage your partner to talk to their doctor or midwife.
  • Go to the doctor yourself for information and advice if your partner initially refuses to go.

Support and patience from a partner, family and friends are perhaps the most important factor in a woman’s recovery from PND. Talking about her feelings, particularly with other women in support groups or with a professional counsellor can be helpful. In more severe cases, anti-depressants and other medications might help bring about a change in mood.

It is important to remember that PND is a temporary condition that will improve with time.