Although the symptoms and severity of postpartum depression can vary from one woman to another, there are generally three conditions that fall under the umbrella of postpartum depression.
(a) Baby Blues:
UP TO 80% OF NEW MOTHERS EXPERIENCE THE BABY BLUES
• Usually begins on day 3 or 4 and can last up to 2 weeks.
• Symptoms include crying spells, tiredness, sadness, and anxiety.
• The blues are temporary. Things will get better.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Physically and emotionally support her by limiting visitors, providing meals, allowing her to rest. Reassure her that adjusting to her new role will take some time.
(b) Postpartum Depression:
UP TO 20% OF NEW MOTHERS EXPERIENCE POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
• Blues symptoms continue but with more intensity and severity.
• Can occur during the first month or any time during the first year.
• Inability to sleep, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, hopelessness, fear of harming self or baby.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Consider increased help from supportive family, friends and professionals. Reassure her that this is an illness that is not her fault. With appropriate treatment, she will recover.
(c) Postpartum Psychosis:
1 OR 2 OUT OF A THOUSAND NEW MOTHERS EXPERIENCE POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS.
• This is a rare and severe illness that usually begins within the first few weeks after birth.
• Severe depression, acute anxiety, loss of touch with reality.
• Thoughts or actions of suicide or harming the baby.
HOW CAN YOU HELP:
*THIS IS AN EMERGENCY SITUATION!
Immediately take your partner to the emergency department. She will likely require medication and hospitalization. With early intervention, prognosis is good.
2. Why is this happening now?
The causes of postpartum depression are not fully understood. There are many hormonal changes after delivery that might trigger biochemical changes that affect her mood and behaviour. Past history of depression (self or family), abuse may be a factor. Adjusting to the new role of parent is a stressful life event. Lack of sleep, slow recovery from delivery, difficulty with breastfeeding, a fussy or ill baby can all aggravate the problem.
3. Support and understand.
Reassure your partner of your love and concern. Listen to her without judging. Allow her to ventilate her feelings. Be patient and realize that you cannot be the solution finder. If outside help is necessary, encourage her to find supportive health professionals, and to consider treatment options such as antidepressant medication, counselling and support groups.
4. Forget the myths – look at the facts:
(a) Motherhood and fatherhood are not instinctive.
For both mother and father, instinct develops with involvement in baby care.
(b) There is no such thing as a perfect mother or perfect baby.
Striving for perfection can set mom up for disappointment. Lowering expectations and learning from mistakes will make both of you better parents.
(c) Parenting means mothering and fathering.
Both mother and father have their own parenting style and children benefit from being exposed to both styles.
(d) Men can nurture.
Your sense of confidence and competence as a nurturer will increase with more involvement in childcare.
Encourage the mother of your child as much as possible by saying the following:
• “I love you.”
• “It’s not your fault.”
• “You’re not alone.”
• “You will get better.”
• “You can still be a good mother and feel terrible”.
• “Our baby will be fine”.
• “Tell me how I can help you.”6. What to do....
Help the mother of your child by developing a routine to assist in caring for the baby.
• Change diapers, play with your baby
• Keep tract and assist with feedings
• Help with housework; do laundry
• Provide nourishing meals; encourage friends to bring food
• If there are other children, help care for them. Reassure them that mommy will be okay.
• Be attentive to mother’s appetite, sleeping patterns, feelings, energy level. Listen to her. Be patient.
7. You too, can get the blues.
Research has shown that new fathers can also get “the baby blues”. There is no hormonal trigger as with mothers but you are also going through many major adjustments. You may feel sad, anxious, angry or left out. Become involved with the care of your baby right away. This helps to increase your confidence and reduce your isolation. The blues are only temporary – take breaks to look after yourself and they should resolve in a few days or weeks.
8. Take care of yourself.
Taking care of your own health is important as you support your partner. Eat well, get enough rest, make time for exercise. Take a break – connect with other fathers. Be aware of your own needs, follow-up on some of your own interests.
9. Romance the relationship.
Connect as a couple by planning regular dates and using babysitters to get away together. Strengthen your relationship by gradually resuming activities that you both enjoy. Be affectionate but don’t expect sex. She is still your partner, not just the mother of your child.
10. As a family, you go through this together.
Go out and do things together as a family such as a walk around the block, exercising together, visiting the park. Remember that mother, father and baby are active partners in the treatment plan. Make plans for the future such as organizing a vacation in the next few months. Keep your plans simple but give yourself something to look forward to. As a family you will get through this.
+1 DADS CAN do it!
Believe in yourself and in your potential to be active and caring in your child’s life. Every child deserves a loving, responsible and involved father.
Be there; Be involved.
Neil R. Campbell, Ph.D.
St. Joseph’s Health Care London
268 Grosvenor Street, Box 34
London, Ontario Canada N6A 4V2
Mitzi Pohanka, R.N., B.Sc.N. IBCLC
Mother Reach London and Middlesex
Middlesex-London Health Unit
50 King Street
London, Ontario Canada N6A 5L7