When you and your partner decided to have a child, I'm sure you imagined what being a parent would be like. You probably knew a little bit about what to expect, but weren't sure about details. Pretty much every expectant parent imagines they'll have a baby who pees and poops a lot, cries, sleeps erratically, and that you'll be tired. That's the basic idea anyway.
But what you might not expect is the stress that comes from pediatrician visits where you worry if your baby isn't gaining their birth weight back fast enough. Or the tears and frustration that come in the middle of the night because you can't get the baby to latch properly and it hurts to nurse. Or the fights you'll have with your partner because you're both so exhausted and you've tried everything you can think of to calm your baby but they are still crying.
If you or your partner develop postpartum issues due to hormonal changes, increased stress, increased isolation, or other factors, this can further complicate the already stressful postpartum period.
The statistics can be pretty depressing, honestly:
Up to 85% of mothers* will experience "the baby blues" within the first few weeks and even months after giving birth
1 in 6 mothers* experience Postpartum Depression (PPD)
1 in 3 mothers* experience Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)
1 in 500 mothers* experience Postpartum Psychosis
10-26% of fathers* experience Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND)
2-18% of fathers* may experience Paternal Postnatal Anxiety (PPNA)
Depression and Anxiety often occur together
So how do you support your partner if they may be struggling in the transition to parenthood during the postpartum months?
Being aware of symptoms and warning signs that something more serious is going on is important to give your postpartum partner the support they need during the fourth trimester and beyond.
The Mayo Clinic has a great explanation of the variety of symptoms that can occur during this time:
Baby blues symptoms
Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:
Postpartum depression symptoms
Postpartum depression symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin earlier ― during pregnancy ― or later — up to a year after birth and may include:
Depressed mood or severe mood swings
Difficulty bonding with your baby
Withdrawing from family and friends
Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Intense irritability and anger
Fear that you're not a good mother*
Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
Severe anxiety and panic attacks
Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Untreated postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.
With postpartum psychosis — a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery — the signs and symptoms are severe. Signs and symptoms may include:
Confusion and disorientation
Obsessive thoughts about your baby
Hallucinations and delusions
Excessive energy and agitation
Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
Postpartum psychosis may lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors and requires immediate treatment.
To read more from The Mayo Clinic, please go to their site here.
In addition to looking out for any warning signs listed above, offering hands-on support can be really helpful.
If your partner feels overwhelmed, ask how you can step in and work together to find workable solutions.
Here are a few ideas that might be useful:
Wash pump parts after your partner pumps milk
Prepare bottles ahead of time
Change the baby's diaper and/or clothes
Give the baby a bath
Learn how to swaddle
Get comfortable holding the baby and/or learn how to use a wrap, sling, or carrier
Rock or bounce the baby when they are tired or upset
Take the baby for a walk around your neighborhood and give your partner a physical break
Offer to make meals, bring snacks and water, and take care of household chores
Remind your partner to take a shower, brush their teeth and hair, change their clothes, and rest
Your partner will likely need emotional support from you as well.
Not only do fluctuating hormones play a part in the rollercoaster of emotions experienced, but extreme exhaustion can exacerbate emotional reactions. Plus, you are trying to communicate with a brand new human who has no idea how to tell you what they need and want, so that in itself can be really frustrating.
Offering emotional support can be as simple as:
Listening without offering solutions (unless they are asked for!)
Validating their feelings
Avoiding fixing their feelings
Taking a moment to breathe together
Taking a moment to hug
Allow them to cry freely in your presence
It's ok if you are not able to fulfill all of your partner's emotional needs - nor should that be your responsibility! Encourage your partner to gain emotional support from trusted family, friends, other parents, support groups, and/or a therapist.
The final thing to consider when supporting your postpartum partner is making the effort to check in with them regularly.
Make a habit of doing daily check-ins if possible
Don't assume that if they don't ask, they don't need anything
Notice if something seems off or your partner seems distressed and ask how you can help
Encourage them to do self-care
Encourage them to lean on outside support of family, friends, and professionals
Openly support the idea of therapy either individually or as a couple to get through this transition easier
Following these guidelines will help you and your partner manage the postpartum period much more effectively and eliminate excessive stress as you adjust to life with a baby.
If this resonates with you and you'd like to have additional support, I'm here to walk this journey with you. Joining The Partnerhood community by signing up for the online program could be one of the best things you ever did not only for your relationship with your partner, but for your kids as their parent.
You'll learn much more effective ways to communicate and manage conflict as well as how to nurture emotional connections, take care of your relationships, strategize better self-care practices, and so much more.
I am confident that if you use what you learn, you'll see a lot of improvement in your family. That's why I offer at 30-day 100% money back guarantee. If you apply the concepts and find they don't work for you within 30 days, you are welcome to contact me and I'll refund you. No questions asked.
I can't wait to see you there!
* Please note that current studies largely reflect people who identify as female/"mother" and male/"father". Unfortunately, there is not enough current data to include non-binary, non-cis people in their findings. Hopefully, this will change in the future as various people have children and studies should not be limited to heteronormative standards. We at The Partnerhood believe all people have the right to be parents, no matter their identity, and strive to be inclusive in our publications.
Christie Sears Thompson
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
The Partnerhood (www.thepartnerhood.com)
Trade Winds Therapy & Relationship Coaching (www.tradewindstherapy.com)