What to do if you think you or your partner has postpartum depression

The first few weeks of having a new baby at home can come with lots of different emotions. New parents may feel joy, relief or nervousness — sometimes all at once. It’s understandable that some new moms may teeter between pure happiness and moodiness (sometimes with tears).

Many new moms experience the “baby blues” in the days after they give birth. They may be sad, irritable or teary. But the symptoms tend to go away in a few days.1

Postpartum depression is different, notes Kara Weiland, a licensed clinical social worker who treats maternal mental health issues. It lasts longer and is a serious health condition that may affect a mother’s ability to care for themself or their child. And it’s common. About 1 in 8 new moms develop postpartum depression within a year after giving birth.2

New moms who have postpartum depression can be treated, which is why it’s important to seek help from a health care provider or mental health professional. If you’re concerned about your partner, you can help make that happen. Read on to learn what postpartum depression looks like and what to do if you spot it.

What postpartum depression may look like

Postpartum depression typically starts within the first 3 weeks after childbirth, but can develop as late as 1 year after having a baby.1 There are a number of factors that can bring on these kinds of feelings. A combination of changing hormones, very little sleep, lack of support and a history of depression may all contribute.1

”(People) don’t choose to have postpartum depression,” says psychiatrist Ryan Sultan, M.D., director of Integrative Psych and director of Mental Health Informatics at Columbia University in New York City. “Even the happiest individuals, those who have eagerly anticipated their baby’s arrival and have strong support systems, can develop postpartum depression.”

Some mothers may feel comfortable telling their partner how they’re feeling, but others might keep it to themselves. Whether your partner opens up to you or not, keep an eye out for signs of postpartum depression. These can include:2,3

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or worthless
  • Crying a lot
  • Feeling distant from their baby
  • Doubting their ability to care for their baby
  • Trouble focusing, remembering things or doing daily tasks
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Losing interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Eating too little or too much

In rare cases, moms can develop postpartum psychosis. Symptoms of this condition may include hallucinations, delusions, severe mood swings or paranoia. This is a serious condition that requires immediate help. In some cases, the mother needs to be hospitalized.4

5 things to do if your partner has postpartum depression

The more you know about postpartum depression, the better you may be able to support your partner, suggests Dr. Sultan. Read up on postpartum depression, join a support group for spouses and partners or meet with mental health professionals.

Your support is critical in helping your partner recover, Dr. Sultan explains. Here are several ways you can help.

1. Listen to what your partner has to say

Your partner may not want to share how they’re feeling. But when they're ready to talk, be ready to listen. Having someone to vent to can offer relief. Sometimes, a partner just wants to be heard, Dr. Sultan explains.

2. Help them get some self-care

Encourage your partner to rest when they can, get regular exercise and eat nutritious meals.2 You can help by making sure the kitchen is stocked with fresh produce and healthy foods. Encourage your partner to schedule time to go for a daily walk or take a yoga class. Self-care might also mean getting a relaxing massage, taking a warm bath or maybe meeting a friend at a coffee shop.

3. Take on more baby-related chores

Take on more responsibilities with the baby so your partner can rest and recharge, Dr. Sultan suggests. For example, jump in for more feedings or diaper changes.

It may be challenging to find time for quality sleep, but it’s important mom gets as much rest as possible. One good goal to aim for, recommends Weiland: At least 1 consolidated episode of sleep that lasts 4 to 5 hours, and then at least 2 to 3 hours more throughout the 24-hour period.

4. Lend a hand around the house

See what tasks you can take off your partner’s plate. “Reducing daily stresses can make a significant difference,” says Dr. Sultan. If you don’t have time to do much of the cleaning, cooking or washing, see if friends or family can pitch in. Or see if there’s room in the budget for hired help.

5. Encourage your partner to see a health care provider

New moms may benefit from talk therapy and medication, or a combination of both.2 If your partner seems hesitant, volunteer to make the appointment for them. Ask if they’d like you to go along. Then arrange for someone to watch your baby. Or suggest they join a support group.

With the right help — and treatment — your partner can get on the path to feeling better. Be patient and informed. Your love and support during this postpartum journey can make a huge difference.

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