10 ways to support mom’s mental health after a baby

July 18, 2019 | by Linda Huelke-Pfleger, LCPC

Going through pregnancy and having a baby makes women into superheroes. But even for a superhero, having a newborn is incredibly exhausting and demanding, both physically and mentally.

You and your partner need to work together now more than ever to get through it. Although dads don’t get to grow babies in their bodies or breastfeed, they can step up in other ways — including supporting their partner’s mental health.

For some women, postpartum depression seems like something other women get. But perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) affect up to 1 in 5 women during pregnancy and after giving birth.

Since most moms get the baby blues at some point, what can dads do to support their partner’s mental health after a baby?

  1. Listen and validate. Validate what your partner is saying and emphathize. Don’t try to fix the problem or talk your partner out of her feelings. Encourage your partner to share her feelings with other moms too, such as in a support group.
  2. Share duties. It’s all about divide and conquer so you both stay sane. Dad, you are not a “helper” to mom, but a partner in this new family. If your partner is breastfeeding (and even if she isn’t), you do the bathing and diaper changes. Share in household chores too, including laundry, cleaning, shopping, etc.
  3. Help each other get sleep. The biggest adjustment to having a baby is sleep deprivation, and sleep is essential to emotional health. Split up nighttime duties: you take the 10 p.m.-2 a.m. shift and your partner takes the 2 a.m.-6 a.m. shift, or tradeoff for a night at a time.
  4. Spend alone time with baby. Give your partner a break for a few hours and spend time alone with baby. Even if you just hold baby while your partner takes a shower or naps, it will give you a chance to bond and confidence that you can handle baby on your own.
  5. Build a support network. Plan ahead and enlist help from others in the weeks after returning home from the hospital. You’ll need it. Can a relative stay for a week or two? Can you hire a housecleaning service? Can you get a grocery or meal delivery service for the first few months?
  6. Don’t keep score. Don’t argue back and forth over who is working harder. Offer to cook while she does the dishes, and vice versa. Communicate openly with each other to prevent resentment down the road.
  7. Be patient with her recovery. It can take women a while to recover physically from birth. Find other ways to feel close and connect with your partner, including holding hands, cuddling on the sofa together, and sharing a long hug.
  8. Know what PMAD looks like. It can be difficult for moms to recognize that they’re struggling. This is where you step in. Encourage your partner to seek help if you notice any of these signs: sadness, irritability, frequent crying, excessive worry about baby’s health, panic attacks, feeling hopeless or inadequate, difficulty concentrating or remembering, restless sleep, appetite changes, withdrawal from family and friends, and/or lack of interest in normal activities.
  9. Pay attention to your own mood. Like moms, new dads must adjust to major life changes with the arrival of a baby. Studies show perinatal depression and anxiety affects 1 in 10 fathers. Read how new dads can get the baby blues, too and how to handle it.
  10. Set date nights. Set aside time to be together without baby. It’s tough to find time (and energy) to do this, but it’s a necessity for your relationship! Line up a sitter and block your calendar regularly to go out to dinner, go for a walk, take a cooking class together, etc.

Having a baby can naturally cause a strain on a marriage. Learn to be partners in parenting and you’ll get through it together. Also remember that baby’s emotional well-being is enhanced by being cared for by others, especially you.

If your partner has PMAD symptoms that last for more than two weeks or that make it difficult to function, she’ll need some help. In very rare cases (1-2 percent), mothers may experience agitation, mood swings, or a loss of touch with reality marked by delusions, hallucinations and even suicidal or infanticidal thoughts or actions. Learn more about PMADs.

Explore behavioral health resources, or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

Call the Mom’s Line at 630-527-7294, or join the Nurturing Mom support group.

How do you and your partner work together to care for baby? Share with us in the below comments.

Related blogs:

10 ways to help Dad become an expert baby handler

8 honest truths about life with a newborn

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone (even you)

New dads can get the baby blues, too

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