For Maternal Mental Health Week, we've teamed up with clinical psychologist Dr Tess Browne (@drtessbrowne) and midwife Tessa van der Vord (@mentalhealth_midwife) who have helped us put together advice for parents whose partners are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety.
Midwife Tessa shared with us the importance of partners, friends and family being able to identify and help new mums who are struggling. "It is common for new mums to not recognise when they become unwell themselves. Therefore, it is really important for those around them to be aware of the signs and symptoms as they will be the first to notice the changes (which can often be very subtle at first)." You can find out more about the signs in our blog The Signs & Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.
Offer them emotional support
Midwife Tessa tells us this is key to helping them get manage their emotions. "The most important thing you can do is to listen and be kind, try not to dismiss symptoms or ignore them."
Dr Tess agrees, "you shouldn't underestimate how helpful it can be to listen and validate your partners concerns and distress - sometimes just airing emotional pain with a trusted other can go a long way in easing it and provide her with comfort and reassurance."
Although it may be tempting to tell your partner what you think they should do, this may not be the most helpful way of encouraging them to open up to you. Although not your intention, it may seem like you are telling them the ‘right’ way to do things which they may experience as criticism.
Help out around the house
Becoming a parent can be overwhelming and exhausting. If you throw postpartum depression and anxiety into the mix, the burden daily tasks can become almost impossible and overwhelming for the parent who is suffering.
Both Dr Tess and Midwife Tessa agree that partners can help lighten the mental and physical load by helping out with practical tasks around the house. This could be:
- Cooking dinner
- Throwing on a load of laundry
- Cleaning the bathrooms
- Running errands
- Watching the baby while she takes a shower
Help them to connect with others
Motherhood is all-consuming, and as such can feel very lonely for new mums at times. Those who are struggling with their mental health may struggle to reach out to loved ones for support.
Dr Tess advises partners to gently encourage them to connect with existing and new friends - perhaps inviting them over for a cup of tea, or a phone call. She says "sharing experiences with other new parents can be extremely validating for someone with a postpartum depression and anxiety," and having these feelings validated is essential for their recovery.
Help to enforce boundaries with others
It's likely that shortly after baby arrives, friends and family will want to visits. While these visits are often well-intended, it can be very overwhelming for a new mum to be welcoming visitors into her home, especially when she is still recovering from birth and adapting to motherhood.
Be sure to set limits with visitors and enforce boundaries with friends and family, especially if she is feeling weak and vulnerable.
Be affectionate (but respect their boundaries)
Dr Tess advises offering new mums physical affection and support. This can be a hug or a kiss - but remember those suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety may have a lower libido, even past their 6 weeks check. It's important to respect this.
"Also remember that new mothers often feel “touched out” by spending all day attached to their baby and sometimes just want time to be physically alone. This is okay and perfectly normal, and it doesn't last forever."
Remind them they're doing a great job
Dr Tess advises partners to remember that motherhood is tough, so "it's important to acknowledge all the amazing things they’re achieving. They are likely to be focussing on the negatives and all the things they're not completing in their lists, not the positives. Be the voice of balance."
Look after yourself
Don't forget to practice self-care yourself, too. Dr Tess says "it’s important to validate and attend to your own needs, and seek your own sources of support. Supporting someone with a PMAD can be tough, and your needs matter too." Remember to make time for yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Encourage them to seek help if things don't improve
According to midwife Tessa it's important to "encourage the affected parent to seek help from their midwife, GP or health visitor if symptoms are ongoing." Postpartum depression and anxiety won't always disappear or improve on its own, so it's important to seek help when needed.
Dr Tess says, "remember, it is not your responsibility to 'fix' them, but by doing some of these things you can do to support them and ease distress."
We hope this blog has offered some practical tips and advice for partners who want to help their loved one during their transition to parenthood. Read our Maternal Mental Health Q&A with Dr Tess and Midwife Tessa where we share the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.