A Father's

Postpartum Blues and Depression

About seventy percent of new mothers experience periods of mild sadness, weepiness, mood swings, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, inability to make decisions, anger, or anxiety after the baby is born. These postpartum blues, which many believe are caused by hormonal shifts in a new mother's body, can last for hours or days, but in most cases they disappear within a few weeks. Researcher Edward Hagen, however, believes that postpartum blues has little, if anything, to do with hormones. Instead, he says, it's connected to low levels of social support—especially from the father. And it could be the new mother's way of "negotiating" for more involvement.

If you notice that your partner is experiencing any of these symptoms, there's not much you can do except be as supportive and involved as possible. Take on more of the childcare responsibilities, encourage her to get out of the house for a while, and see to it that she's eating healthily. Most of what your partner will go through after the birth is completely normal and is nothing to worry about. So be patient, and don't expect her to bounce back immediately.

For about ten percent to twenty percent of new moms, however, the baby blues develop into “postpartum depression,” which is more serious. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, postpartum depression, if not recognized and treated, may become worse or last longer than it needs to. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Postpartum blues that don't go away after two weeks, or feelings of depression, shame, or anger that surface a month or two after the birth.
  • Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, helplessness, or hopelessness that begin to disrupt your partner's normal functioning.
  • Unexplained episodes of crying
  • Major appetite changes or a significant decrease in sex drive
  • Inability to sleep when tired, or sleeping most of the time, even when the baby is awake, or to take pleasure
  • Marked changes in appetite.
  • Extreme concern and worry about the baby, or lack of interest in the baby and/or other members of the family.
  • Worries that she'll harm the baby or herself, or threats that she'll do either one.

You can also play a major role in helping your wife get through her postpartum depression. Here are a few ways to help:

  • Remind your partner that the depression is not her fault, you love her, the baby loves her, she's doing a great job, and that the two of you will get through this together. Also, do as much of the housework and childcare as you can so she won’t have to worry about not being able to get everything done herself.
  • Encourage her to take breaks—regularly and frequently.
  • Encourage her to talk with you about what she's feeling and to see her doctor or a therapist.
  • Take over enough of the nighttime baby duties so your partner can get at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. This means that you'll probably do a feeding or two, which is a great way to get in some extra dad-baby bonding.
  • Get regular breaks to relieve your own stress. Yes, she’s relying on you to help her but if you’re falling apart yourself you can’t be an effective caregiver.

Postpartum blues and depression can be confusing, frustrating, and even frightening for your partner and you. But there is help. Your partner’s doctor or the hospital where your baby was born will have lists of local organizations that offer resources, support, and guidance for both of you.

©2008, Armin Brott

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It's clear that most American children suffer too much mother and too little father. - Gloria Steinem

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of Blueprint for Men's Health: A guide to a health lifestyle, The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be; The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads, The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a Partner and Father for Life. He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts “Positive Parenting”, a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com

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