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Supporting Someone With Postpartum Depression: What You Can Do to Help

Young white couple wearing pajamas and sitting in their messy bedroom. The mother is sitting on the bed, looking exhausted and angry, holding her baby in her lap. The father is sitting across the room, holding a cup of coffee with his face in his hands.

If you are the spouse, partner, significant other, or support person of a woman who is experiencing perinatal challenges, you are not alone. Over 20% of all childbearing women develop what is clinically called postpartum depression/anxiety (PPD). A significant percentage of those women also experience depression or anxiety while pregnant. As her primary support, this may feel overwhelming. You may be wondering how to help her.

Here are my suggestions, both as a therapist who specializes in helping families with postpartum challenges, and also as a survivor of PPD.

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to my wonderful support people: my dear husband, my mother and father, my mother-in-law, and my siblings. I am so fortunate to have them in my life and my children’s lives. Without them, my PPD experience would have been much more challenging. I am forever grateful to these beautiful people.

Here are some suggestions for helping your loved one, learned from personal and professional experience.

  • Seek competent help. Don’t try to diagnose her yourself. PPD is not what the media portrays it to be, and you may be misinformed. Go to Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net) for a list of co-coordinators in each state or country who can provide you with resources for perinatal specialists (psychotherapists, psychiatrists, support groups, lactation consultants, and more). She  needs a thorough assessment by a trained perinatal professional, who can then determine a comprehensive treatment plan involving multidisciplinary, trained helpers.
  • If you suspect your wife or loved one is experiencing a psychiatric emergency, take her immediately to the hospital for an evaluation. This can help you to access support services and interventions.
  • Educate yourself about perinatal mood/anxiety disorders (PMAD). Once it’s confirmed that your loved one is experiencing a PMAD, seek out facts, information, and online support groups for clients and their family members. Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net) can help with these resources as well.
  • Tell her when you notice she is getting better. She will look to you for evidence that she is recovering. Supportive phrases like, “I see you smiling today,” or “You were singing in the shower!” can go a long way.
  • Encourage her to rest, exercise, and get good nutrition. Help her with baby care, and line up additional support if necessary, such as extended family or postpartum doulas and caregivers (www.DONA.org).
  • Attend her appointments with her. These can include therapy, medication management, well-baby appointments, well-mama appointments, and more.
  • Work with healing professionals to support your loved one. These may be lactation consultants, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, postpartum doulas, or other healing professionals.
  • Get support for yourself. This is a very difficult time, and you need encouragement and emotional and practical support as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Remind your loved one that she is experiencing a medical condition. It will resolve with treatment, but it is not an experience she can easily “snap out of.” Postpartum challenges are influenced by biochemistry, genetic predisposition, hormonal fluctuations, and sleep deprivation, among other factors.  With treatment, she will get better. Tell her that, even if both of you feel discouraged. It’s the truth.
  • Remember that PPD is not anyone’s fault. Unfortunately, stigma exists about getting help for perinatal challenges, even though PPD is basically poorly-timed anxiety and depression. PPD can happen to all women of all socioeconomic backgrounds. It does not discriminate.
  • If medications are indicated, support her. A person would not ignore doctor’s advice to receive interventions for diabetes or pneumonia, so why are we so resistant to obtaining support for our brains? Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is highly susceptible to fluctuations in the perinatal stage. This can be due to rapid hormonal shifts and sleep deprivation, among other factors. If a woman is experiencing significantly distressing symptoms, her provider may recommend medication management in addition to a wide range of holistic approaches. We must be vigilant and attentive in order to help our loved ones receive the services they need and deserve.
  • If she chooses to let go of breast-feeding, support her. If she is facing a PMAD that requires sleep recovery for resolution, she may not feel she can continue breast-feeding. She may feel very guilty for doing so. If she wishes to continue breast-feeding, encourage her and help her via bottle-feeding the baby at night, either with pumped breast-milk or supplemented formula. Get a night-nurse, if you can afford it. Supportive extended family members may be able to go in shifts with you for night feedings so that Mom can get rest and restore her serontonin.
  • Make sure you are also getting rest. You both need five consecutive hours of sleep to restore serotonin. Monitor yourself for signs of a PMAD. Fathers, partners, adoptive parents, and support persons can also experience PMAD, even without experiencing the hormonal influences that birth mothers do.
  • Remain positive. This is temporary. She will recover, and there are trained perinatal professionals who can guide you through this.

© Copyright 2011 by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in San Dimas, California. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • STACY April 22nd, 2011 at 2:40 PM #1

    My sister just had a baby about four weeks ago and she is just so irritated all the time…! She did develop these behavioral changes during the pregnancy but then what she s doing now is a whole lot more. So would you suggest we get her some professional help…?

  • suze April 23rd, 2011 at 6:47 AM #2

    What do you do? You run to her doctor and talk to her about what is going on. Do you know how hard it is for a woman to admit that she is feeling depressed after what is supposed to be the most special time of her life? Incredibly hard because veeryone looks at her and thinks that she should be happy yet she is not feeling that way on the inside at all. This is a time to step in and get the wheels rolling because if you do not chances are she may not be able to do this for herself.

  • Shane April 24th, 2011 at 11:54 AM #3

    I am sorry but I guess I am one of those guys who think that this is rubbish. Having a child is hard. You know that going in. If you don’t want to have to take the good with the bad then maybe you should consider not having a child.

  • Andrea Schneider, LCSW April 26th, 2011 at 5:13 PM #4

    Well, I am glad that this article has caused some food for thought. Perinatal mood/anxiety disorders are the real deal. Anyone who says differently is misinformed and choosing to bury their head in the sand. For further information, please see postpartum.net Shane, I certainly hope you aren’t a father because if you are, I fear for your wife and your child with that attitude!

  • lisa July 22nd, 2012 at 1:21 AM #5

    Hi I fear my sister may have Postpartum Depression. She had an emotional pregnancy, she changed her mind a few times about abortion. She also becam a single parent when she was 15 weeks pregnant, and the father has not helped and only seen the baby once. The baby is now 7 months, she has always had the support from me and he rest of my family. In the past when my nephew was a few months I had to sleep over as she was worried she would kill herself. Recently james has been ill, she was very upset but now as he looks better she is not coping very well. Since being ill and still, he is waking up 1 or more times at night. He is wary of teets (as he’s scared of vomiting though he’s better) and he is moaning and crying more. I don’t know what to do, I’m scared to leave him alone with her (she is currently staying with me and my parents). I’ve heard her say passing comments and these scare me now but originally made me feel and emotionally drained to be honest.. What should I do?

  • crazyinaz January 16th, 2013 at 10:02 PM #6

    I am getting tired of the “it will get better” speech. It isn’t getting better…it is getting worse. You make it sound like the wife wants to work things out, wants to sit and have a conversation, actually gives a crap about what this is doing to me…she doesn’t! It’s all about her. She’s the only one being impacted. She is the only one with the right to be upset.

    I am throwing in the towel. I can’t do this any more.

  • Andrea Schneider February 13th, 2013 at 11:41 AM #7

    Crazyinaz…please look into postpartum.net (postpartum support international) for resources in your area…help is available and with treatment, you and your wife will be well .

  • Anthony November 23rd, 2013 at 1:10 AM #8

    She is on medication but tells me she is unhappy. Then hides all phone calls and text messages. Like she does not trust me with anything. And I have been supporting her in everyway I can. Taking care of both our kids I work nights so when I get home I get my little girl up and ready to go to school. Then I take her to school then I and getting the baby up and feed when I get that done I’m getting about 1 to 2 hours of sleep a day and eating 1 small meal i’v lost 86 pounds in 4 months. She tells me there is nothing wrong but can not communicate with me at all. I’m lossing my mind and all I keep seeing as she is not here but she tells me stuff like I want matching tattoos, then tells me I’m not a good husband but i’v told her she is pretty, and smart and all I get is yeah right blank nothing comes out but things that hurt like. You don’t give me goose bumps anymore. What the hell I feel like this is nuts how can she love me then 4 months latter tells me she does not know why she married me. And this is our second and she is 6 I feel like I’m killing myself trying to help understand and I don’t have a support team I can call up because everyone thinks she is fine but they don’t see what I see everyday. Plus there her mom and friends she telling them God knows what about me help me understand please someone

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