Postpartum depression has received more attention and understanding over the years1, but how do you recognize it in your partner?
Both you and your wife or partner have just shared a momentous life experience and a major life change with the birth of your child. It is normal for either or both of you to be feeling a little on edge, maybe anxious, maybe extra emotional, and certainly exhausted.
Baby blues, which you may have heard of, are part of a normal hormone shift after giving birth. For a few days, or even a couple of weeks, women can experience mood swings, irritability, increased crying and a decreased ability to concentrate. Usually this dissipates within two or so weeks following the birth.
When these types of symptoms continue long term, or become very intense, it is no longer a simple case of the baby blues. At first glance, postpartum depression can look similar, but there are a broad range of symptoms involved with postpartum depression that can continue for months if left unaddressed2
Sometimes, it can be hard for a new mother to recognize when what she’s going through is actually postpartum depression. This is where you, the partner, come in. You can help her identify the signs and seek further support if she needs it.
The following are five clear signs that your partner needs help.
1 – Feeling Moody and Irritable
Again, mood swings are normal, but when they become severe, frequent, and unmanageable, this can be a sign of postpartum depression.
These severe mood swings might look like excessive crying, particularly after the first week or so of your child’s life. The excessive sadness, or even thoughts of suicide, may be interspersed with intense irritability and anger, and sudden periods of calm or sinking into a listless depression. Whereas you might have been able to anticipate her moods to some degree before, these swings are volatile and easily triggered. She may be excessively angry or upset with you more often than normal and about the tiniest things.
2 – Lack of Interest in the Baby
The intense stress and increased emotional volatility may prompt your partner to withdraw from the baby. She might not interact much with the baby, talking or playing with it, or she might take longer to respond to baby’s cries. If she recognizes this withdrawal from the baby, she might mention feeling disconnected or not feeling like she’s bonding with the baby.
She might also withdraw from other people. Most new parents go through a period of reclusiveness as they adjust to the demands of a new baby and enjoy time together bonding. The withdrawal that can signify postpartum depression looks like intense reluctance or refusal to spend time with family and friends. It might also involve a lack of interest in activities she used to love.
If your partner repeatedly shies away from your suggestion that she meet up with her best friend, or makes excuses to avoid family gatherings, it may be time to look for help. If she doesn’t want to watch her favorite show or go get her nails done when she used to love doing these things, it is time to investigate what’s going on.
3 – Appetite and Sleep Disturbance
Taking into consideration that breastfeeding moms will have a natural increase in appetite, the cause for concern here can be either a loss of appetite or eating considerably more than usual.
Loss of appetite can result in further loss of energy, decrease in mental clarity, and an unstable emotional state. If the loss of appetite is severe, it can also affect a mother’s milk production.
If your partner is eating substantially more than normal (not just the standard snacking a breastfeeding mom needs to do), this can also affect sluggishness and physical and emotional health. Appetite changes like these are not just readjusting to “eating for one instead of two.” These changes signify something deeper going on and warrant a closer look.
Additionally, sleep disturbances can also be a warning sign of postpartum depression. This is not the new-parent rite-of-passage that is sleeping in three-hour chunks, but deeper-rooted insomnia, restlessness, and fatigue.
Insomnia involves the frequent inability to fall asleep even when her baby is asleep, and/or consistently waking up from sleep. She might also feel fatigued even when she gets enough sleep. Restlessness may contribute to a mom’s insomnia, as might an underlying post-traumatic response to a difficult birthing experience. Any of these issues can signal the need for treatment.
Conversely, if your new mama can’t seem to pull herself out of bed and spends as many hours as possible sleeping, this is also cause for concern and one of the typical symptoms of postpartum depression. If she is depressed, your partner might seem profoundly fatigued (even more than expected with waking up a couple times a night). She could be experiencing profound sadness, loss of interest and pleasure that might even go as far as thoughts of hurting herself or the baby. When these symptoms become severe, they begin to impede a mom’s ability to care for herself and her baby.
4 – Severe Anxiety and Panic Attacks
There are many anxieties associated with new parenthood—Is my baby eating enough? How can I get enough sleep? Do we have enough diapers? Etc. Severe anxiety can include obsessing over these smaller concerns to the point that a new mom can’t focus on anything else. She may even experience panic attacks with a racing heart and tightening in the chest.
When anxiety becomes severe and overwhelming, this can also interfere with a mom’s ability to function in normal, day-to-day tasks or taking care of her child.
5 – Feeling Guilt
We’ve all had moments of feeling guilty when baby gets a scrape or bump, we think we could’ve prevented. But the feelings of guilt a mother can experience in postpartum depression are much more intense. They might include doubting herself as a mother, to the extent of feeling ashamed or like everybody else is doing better than her.
If your partner is constantly comparing herself with other mothers and expresses the thought that she can’t do anything right or is embarrassed about what a bad mom she is, she might need help. Some moms in the depths of postpartum depression even express the thought that their baby would be better off without them.
If you notice your partner demonstrating any of these signs, encourage her to talk with a professional. Untreated, symptoms of postpartum depression may last for months or even years.
It is also possible for fathers to experience paternal postpartum depression3. Symptoms can look similar, and therapy can help just as it can help your wife or partner. Be assured, though, that your support of your partner in her struggles as a new mom is instrumental. Relationships do help in dealing with postpartum depression, but a trained professional and sometimes even prescribed medication are necessary to help women who experience postpartum mood disorders.
As a starting point, you might try discussing the symptoms of postpartum depression and ways to ease them with your partner. Then you might offer your help in connecting her with someone (a professional) to talk to.
If you would like to talk to a psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression, call Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute phone consultation: (281)-267-1742.
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for women and couples in Texas and New York City. She uses research-proven method, known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples develop and maintain the emotional connection and support each other through stressful times. She has helped highly distressed couples be available and responsive to each other, access their resiliency, and strengthen their relationships.
If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: [email protected] or call (281)-267-1742.
Links in order of appearance:
- Banti, S., Mauri, M., Oppo, A., Borri, C., Rambelli, C., Ramacciotti, D., … Cassano, G. B. (2011). From the third month of pregnancy to 1 year postpartum. Prevalence, incidence, recurrence, and new onset of depression. Results from the Perinatal Depression–Research & Screening Unit study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 52(4), 343–351. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2010.08.003
- Degner Detlef. Differentiating between “baby blues,” severe depression, and psychosis BMJ 2017; 359 :j4692
- Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association with Maternal Depression: A Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303(19):1961–1969. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.605