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In No Mood for a Baby

How women can cope with postpartum depression
By Cary and Tonja Rector


The birth of a baby is a joyous occasion for a family. When postpartum depression becomes part of the experience it can be confusing and frightening.

Many women experience feelings of depression in the weeks following giving birth. The “baby blues” are considered normal and clear up on their own in about two weeks without any intervention. By contrast, postpartum depression can start anytime within one year of delivery and doesn’t fade away within a few weeks. Risk factors include prior depression or anxiety, a stressful pregnancy or delivery, lack of social support and financial stress.

Symptoms of postpartum depression are the same as major depression and also include intense worry about the baby, negative feelings about the baby, or a fear of harming the baby. (Researchers report new mothers rarely actually harm their newborn, but if the fears are present, she should confide in someone she trusts.)

For women dealing with postpartum depression there are several things to keep in mind:

Postpartum depression is absolutely treatable. Talk to your physician about your symptoms and treatment options. If needed, certain medications are safe for nursing mothers. Don’t assume you have to give up breastfeeding in order to get better.

Let family and friends know what is going on. Often extended family and friends can tell something is wrong but don’t know what. Fears of stigma or negative reactions may cause a mother to attempt to hide her postpartum depression. Seek assistance from those close to you. They are great resources, and now is the time you need them.

Cut yourself some slack. You are exhausted and irritable, the laundry isn’t done and the house is a mess. Not what you envisioned when thinking about the arrival of your baby. Caring for a newborn is tiring under normal circumstances; doing it while depressed can feel like it requires superhuman strength. Not measuring up to your own expectations, or what you perceive as others’ expectations, can result in guilt. Guilt can be a crippling emotion and can stand in the way of improvement. Remind yourself that having a child requires constant reworking of routines and expectations. Be flexible in your thinking, even when it pertains to yourself.

For fathers, watching their spouse struggle with depression can be baffling and frightening. Fathers may initially not understand why their wife isn’t as happy and excited as they are. Sometimes fathers recognize there is a problem before their partners do. The book Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (Moodswings Press) by Shoshana S. Bennett and Pec Indman includes a chapter devoted to fathers and partners of postpartum women. Some highlights of the chapter include:

Keep in mind postpartum depression is no one’s fault. You, as her partner, can’t “fix” this. Your job is to be supportive and help her get treatment.

Be sure to take care of yourself. It’s important for fathers to take breaks and seek out support from family and friends. Trying to do it all can lead to depression in the partner.

It’s not personal. One of the symptoms of postpartum depression is irritability. Your wife may be short-tempered and emotionally distant. While it’s good to be empathetic, don’t allow yourself to be a “verbal punching bag.” That type of dynamic becomes its own problem.

Lower your expectations. Cooking, cleaning and caring for a newborn are unrealistic for any new mother, even if not depressed. If she feels guilty about not being able to handle everything, remind her it’s a joint responsibility, not just her job alone. The baby is the priority. The dishes can wait.

Split the night shift. A full sleep cycle requires a minimum of five hours of uninterrupted sleep. Adequate sleep is essential in combating depression.

Postpartum depression affects older children as well. Watching their mother struggle can be scary for children. This isn’t the mother they know. Much of their father’s attention may be taken by helping with the baby and focused on his wife’s treatment.

Reassure older children that although things are tough at the moment, they will get better. Arrange for help in childcare from friends and family. They are often glad to take older children for overnights or daytime outings. This gives the older sibling some time away from the household, focused on having fun.

Dealing with postpartum depression affects the entire family. Seeking the
proper support and treatment is important. Be patient and remind yourself it
will get better.