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What to Do When the Woman You Love Has Postpartum Depression

If your wife or partner has symptoms of postpartum depression, you might feel uncertain about what to do to help. It can be confusing and even frightening to see the mother of your child struggle with such intense, negative emotions when you thought this would be a joyous time.

It’s important to know that what she’s going through isn’t anyone’s fault—not yours, not hers, and not the baby’s. The good news is, you can help her get through it.

Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a family illness, says psychiatrist Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, of the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders.

“Motherhood doesn’t happen in isolation,” she says. “The demands of caring for a new baby are intense, and all mothers need support during this vulnerable time. We are not meant to do this alone. Support from a loving partner is critical.”

If you love someone with postpartum depression, here’s what you need to know to help her.

Postpartum Depression is More Than “Baby Blues”

Mom with head in hands while holding babyYou may have heard of the “baby blues,” when women experience unpleasant emotional changes in the aftermath of delivery. Symptoms can include mood instability, feeling depressed, weepiness, sadness, irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration and feelings of dependency.

These symptoms happen to a lot of new moms—from 50 to 85 percent—but usually subside within a few weeks after delivery.

In contrast, the more severe postpartum depression occurs in about 10 percent of women who have given birth. PPD typically emerges over the first two to three months after childbirth but may occur at any point after delivery. Unlike the “baby blues,” symptoms of PPD last longer, typically for more than two weeks.

What Symptoms of Postpartum Depression Should I Look For in My Partner?

Symptoms of PPD include:

  • Feeling sad and depressed or crying a lot
  • Intense anxiety, rumination or obsessions
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or incompetence
  • Fatigue, irritability or sleep disturbance
  • Change in appetite
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling inadequate to cope with new infant
  • Excessive worry about baby’s health
  • Suicidal thoughts

Why is She Experiencing Postpartum Depression?

Baby in bassinet while mom lies in hospital bed in backgroundDr. Meltzer-Brody is part of an international team of researchers studying whether there is a genetic basis to perinatal mood disorders. That is, are women with postpartum depression made more vulnerable because of their genes?

Dr. Meltzer-Brody’s research group, Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment, launched a mobile app, PPD ACT, to screen women for postpartum depression through a series of questions.

Some women who take the screening will be asked to give a saliva sample through a kit they’ll receive and return by mail. Dr. Meltzer-Brody’s team will “scan” the DNA for each woman who submits a sample. If they do this for tens of thousands of women, they can identify if there are any genetic differences in women who experienced postpartum depression.

The idea is that a better understanding of hereditary or environmental causes of PPD will lead to better treatments and less suffering.

What Can I Do to Help Her With Postpartum Depression?

mam lying in bed working on laptopOf course, while scientists are at work trying to understand PPD for the future, families must deal with its very real consequences today. Here are some tips for helping a woman with postpartum depression:

Do:

Find support. Start with pactforthecure.com/resources.

Read up. Get educated on PPD.

Work as a team. Understand that postpartum depression is no one’s fault.

Don’t:

Invalidate. Don’t say things like, “You need to get over it.”

Shame or guilt her. Don’t say things like, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself” or “What’s the matter with you?”

Compare. Don’t talk about how well other new moms are doing in comparison to her.


 The UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders can help your family make it through postpartum depression. If you need help, call (984) 974-5217 and choose option No. 3, or email womensmooddisorders@med.unc.edu.

Do's and Don't's of talking to someone with PPD

list of PPD symptoms