After Pregnancy: How Dads Can Help with Postpartum Depression

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Postpartum depression occurs in between 9 and 16 percent of women. Dad’s are on the look out for this condition. Some of the symptoms of baby blues and postpartum depression overlap, but postpartum depression is more pronounced, lasts longer, and includes serious signs that need immediate medical evaluation.

How dads can recognize symptoms of postpartum depression

Women with postpartum depression may have the following symptoms:

  • Anger and irritability: Her anger may go far beyond a few swear words when she drops a quart of milk, and it can be frightening.

  • Difficulty bonding with the baby: This is a major red flag. If your partner pushes the baby off on you or other family members or says she’s not a good mom or that the baby would be better off without her, get medical help.

  • Disinterest in normal activities, including sex: Seeing old friends, going out, and even everyday activities like cleaning the house, doing laundry, and watching TV may all go out the window. You may at first think she’s just tired, but a deeper reason may be at the root of her continued lack of interest in life that lasts for several months after delivery.

  • Guilt and shame over her negative thoughts: Again, because she may not verbalize her thoughts, recognizing what’s going on may be difficult. Statements like “I’m no good” or “Someone else would be a better mom to this baby” are warning signs.

  • Loss of appetite: Losing interest in eating is often an early sign of depression.

  • Sleep difficulties: She may not be able to sleep, even when you know she’s exhausted, or she may want to do nothing but sleep.

  • Thoughts about harming herself or the baby: She may not verbalize these thoughts, so they may be hard to recognize. She may want other people to handle the baby because of her fears that she’ll hurt him, accidentally or on purpose.

If you believe your partner is depressed, tell her that you’re concerned about her health, allow her to discuss her symptoms and how she’s feeling, and let her know that what she’s dealing with is a serious medical condition. Postpartum depression doesn’t mean she’s a bad mother or a weak person; good people can suffer from it.

Don’t let her brush the issue aside by saying that it’s just a matter of feeling sad and that she’ll “snap out of it,” because she won’t. Postpartum depression can last up to a year, which can interfere with maternal child bonding and seriously disrupt your family.

Children of moms with untreated depression also suffer the consequences, with a higher incidence of behavior problems, sleeping disorders, feeding problems, hyperactivity, and language delays.

A depressed new mom needs to be treated by a medical professional immediately, so work with your partner to schedule a session with her medical practitioner.

How to know who’s more at risk for postpartum depression

Any woman can have postpartum depression, but the chances of this developing increase if

  • She has a history of depression.

  • She’s recently undergone major life changes. These changes can include a move, a death, job loss, illness, pregnancy complications, or trouble between the two of you.

  • She doesn’t have a good support system. Family and friends make a big difference in the life of a new mom. Postpartum depression makes reaching out to others difficult, so a woman who doesn’t have pushy friends and family who check in on her even if she doesn’t call them is very isolated.

  • The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.

A dad’s guide to postpartum depression treatments

Treatment for postpartum depression may include

  • Antidepressants: Make sure the doctor knows whether your partner is breast-feeding so he can prescribe an antidepressant safe for use by breast-feeding moms.

  • Counseling: Talking things out with a professional is very helpful for some women.

  • Hormone therapy: Estrogen replacement to offset the rapid drop in estrogen after giving birth may be helpful for some women.

How a dad should take care of himself when a partner has postpartum depression

If your partner is suffering from postpartum depression, a large part of her normal chores and responsibilities may fall on you. If you’re trying to hold down a job, make sure your partner’s okay, make sure the baby’s okay, and run the household on top of it all, you may start to feel a little stressed yourself.

Though rushing in to take over a short-lived crisis is easy, a situation that drags on for months can take its toll on your mental and physical well-being. Take care of yourself by making sure you do the following:

  • Call in the troops to help. You may not have readily available family and friends, but if you do, enlist their aid. Send them to the store or have them come over and clean. This is a fine line because you don’t want to give your partner the impression that she can’t do all this stuff, even when she can’t.

    If you call in your mom to clean or cook, your partner may view it as a judgment against her abilities and a sign that you feel your mom is more capable than she is. Sometimes hiring help for household chores is a better idea.

  • Consider taking a leave of absence from work. Some companies offer paid time off for dads or let you use vacation or sick time. You can also use Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time for up to 12 weeks of time off, but this will probably be unpaid time, unless you work for an extremely generous company.

    Dipping into savings or borrowing from your 401(k) isn’t ideal, but if it gets your family through a difficult time, it’s worth it.

  • Eat right. You’ll feel better and be better able to handle situations if you’re not eating junk food.

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes everything look worse. The very worst time to pore over your worries is the middle of the night; everything looks insurmountable at 3 a.m.