Postnatal depression: watching for the signs
Although having a new baby is a joyful and exciting experience, it's common to feel up and down after birth. For example, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed as you and your partner learn how to look after your new baby - while coping with a lack of sleep and much less time to yourselves.
But postnatal depression is more than stress or tiredness - it lasts longer than a few days and can be a serious mental health problem.
This is why it's important to watch out for the signs of postnatal depression in your partner. These signs might include changes in your partner's emotions and thinking, behaviour and social life, and general physical wellbeing. And if your partner seems to be in a low mood or has lost interest in things she'd normally enjoy, you should take this very seriously.
Talking with your partner often and asking how she's feeling will help you both be aware of any changes.
If the emotional changes in your partner go on for longer than two weeks and get in the way of daily life, you need to help your partner get professional advice.
If you're worried that your partner might hurt herself or others, you should speak urgently to your GP or call Lifeline Australia on 131 114. If you believe that someone's life is in immediate danger, call 000 or go to your local hospital's emergency department.
Getting professional support for postnatal depression
Postnatal depression can take a long time to go away without professional help. Early professional support can help your partner recover sooner.
There are many people and services who can help your partner and family with postnatal depression:
- the national Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline - call 1300 726 306.
- your GP
- your child and family health nurse
- your obstetrician or midwife
- your local community health centre
- local mental health services - find your local service by calling your nearest hospital.
Some women might not want to seek help because they're worried about what other people might think. They might also want to keep up the appearance of having everything under control. These are all normal reactions. Reassure your partner that you'll be there to support her.
Emotional support for your partner with postnatal depression
It's common for new mothers to feel emotional as they go through the physical and practical changes of pregnancy and birth. You can give your partner a lot of support just by listening to her and reassuring her that things will get better.
Also, looking after a new baby is a big job. It's demanding and tiring. So it's really important to talk with your partner about how she's feeling and to let her know that you appreciate what a great job she's doing.
You can also acknowledge that she might be tired. For example, you might say, 'Thanks for caring for our baby. I know it's hard and you're really tired, and I appreciate everything you're doing'.
There might be some setbacks while your partner and health professional learn what treatments work best for her. You can reassure your partner that setbacks are part of the process, and that you'll support her as she overcomes them.
Practical support for your partner with postnatal depression
All new parents need practical help and support, especially parents who are experiencing postnatal depression.
You can do a lot to help your partner in practical ways during this time:
- Share the care of your baby and take on extra baby care if you can. This can give your partner more time to care for herself.
- Take on more housework. If you can do household chores without being asked to, it means your partner doesn't have to worry about them at all.
- Keep your partner company. Quality couple and family time will help her recover. You can do things together like cooking meals or going for walks.
- Arrange for someone else to be around if you can't be there. It should be someone your partner feels comfortable spending time with, like a relative or close friend.
- Accept help from family and friends. You can also let people know that your family needs extra support right now and suggest what they can do to help. People often appreciate being asked for something specific.
- Help your partner with her appointments. For example, you can arrange her appointments, drive her to appointments, go to appointments with her, arrange child care and so on.
- Do your research. The more you learn about postnatal depression, the better you can support your partner. You can ask health professionals for more information.
- Celebrate when your partner makes progress in her recovery. For example, if you notice that your partner is getting out of the house more often, do something special like looking after baby so she can sleep in or have coffee with a friend.
Your partner might feel guilty or feel like a burden for accepting your help. You can gently reassure your partner that her wellbeing is important to you and your family.
Looking after yourself when your partner with postnatal depression
You might be focused on your partner's wellbeing, but it's also important to take time for yourself as well. If you're emotionally and physically well, you'll be in better shape to support your partner.
For example, you could do some physical activity by taking your baby out for a walk in the pram. This also gives your partner a little break - and possibly the chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Eating healthy food helps you and your partner build the energy you need to care for your baby and support each other. It can be hard to find time to cook healthy meals, so you can buy prepared meals, soups and salads for the days when time is short. And if you have time, it's a good idea to prepare and freeze some healthy meals for the days and weeks ahead.
Supporting a partner with depression can cause strain in your relationship and affect your own wellbeing. It can help to share how you're feeling with a relative, friend or health professional. You can also call the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306 or MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978.
Men can also experience postnatal depression. Looking after yourself can help to reduce this risk. If you have a male partner experiencing postnatal depression, the strategies suggested in this article will help him too. Read more about postnatal depression and men.