As a partner of a woman who has just given birth, one of the tasks you have is to watch out for is the signs of postnatal depression (PND). Jenny Sherlock, mum of three and PND surviver helps navigate these tricky waters with her postnatal depression guide for dads.
Not just the blues
During the first days after having a baby, many women experience what is known as the “baby blues”. This usually hits around day three after giving birth, lasting only a few days. It is important to note that this is not the same thing as PND. It is thought that up to 80% of women experience the baby blues whereas the rates of PND are thankfully much lower. PND can be difficult to spot in some cases as it can often manifest months after giving birth.
Many women who suffer from PND say that they noticed something just wasn’t right and I know in my case, this was certainly true. I felt quite paranoid that no one else would be capable of looking after my son (even my own husband and mother). I felt anxious especially about what my children’s lives would be like if anything were to happen to me. It sounds extreme, however once I saw my GP and received the right treatment and medication, it wasn’t long before I began to feel like myself again.
It can take longer for you as a partner to notice the signs as women are generally very good at hiding what they perceive to be a weakness – which means that PND can, on occasion, go undiagnosed for a period of time.
Signs she may have PND
- Lack of motivation to get out of bed. You may notice that she is beginning to show a reluctance to get up, get dressed or leave the house like she used to.
- Difficulty sleeping. This may be when trying to fall asleep or perhaps you sometimes find her up during the night saying she cannot sleep.
- Constant tiredness. This can be linked to both of the above, particularly the disturbed sleeping patterns.
- She may be displaying signs of hopelessness, even implying that her family may be better off without her.
- Ability to cope. She may be finding it difficult to cope with even the smallest setbacks.
- Low self-confidence. This may manifest in terms of her body image (which by the way is normal for new mums) or it may run deeper than that i.e. she may be lacking in confidence in all areas of her life including her ability to be a good mum.
- She may become more prone to panic or anxiety attacks.
- Her memory and concentration may be affected.
- You may notice her appetite and libido may be suffering.
What to do
If you notice any of the above, it is important first and foremost that you do not ignore it. If you notice one or two signs, keep an eye on her. If you notice more than that, the situation may warrant further action on your part.
In my own experience, the best place to start is to speak to her about your concerns. Make sure she knows that you are there for her and that you are looking out for her best interests.
If you believe the situation merits professional help, the first port of call should be the GP. They will advise you of the possible treatment options i.e. medication, therapy, or alternative treatment. Your GP will also give you advice on how best to help your significant other with her recovery. In the meantime, assure her that she is doing a good job, PND does not make her weak or a failure, it makes her human.
What not to do
Firstly, it is important that you do not speak to other people before speaking to your partner. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that everything is fine and that this is just a passing phase. The sooner you act, the sooner she will be herself again. This should go without saying but you certainly shouldn’t mock or dismiss how she feels. Try to remember that she has little or no control over her emotions or responses to things that are happening.
When to seek help
If you feel that what you have noticed is more than the baby blues, is lasting quite a while or is more than you feel you can cope with – seek help. Contact your GP, Public Health Nurse or other healthcare professional, they are there to help. And don’t forget about yourself!
Although it is not a commonly known or publicised fact, it is possible for men to also suffer from PND.
According to research carried out at University College Cork (UCC), 12% of Irish men show symptoms of paternal postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression manifests differently in men as they haven’t gone through the same physical changes a woman has, but the way a baby changes your life is essentially the same, although this is overlooked quite a lot of the time.
Dads can often feel ignored by their partner as she is busy caring for their newborn. They may feel that the relationship has suffered and that their partner is no longer interested in them. It can also be difficult for a new dad to bond with their baby. This is certainly not the case for everyone, but it is important to highlight that it is normal to feel that way and it doesn’t mean that you won’t be a good dad.
If you feel that there is something not quite right within yourself, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to seek help. There is an old saying which refers to motherhood but is applicable to both parents; “You cannot pour from an empty cup”, meaning we cannot take care of each other or our children if we do not first take care of ourselves. The bottom line here is that it is okay not to feel okay and there is no shame or weakness in needing an extra bit of help to adjust.
Jenny Sherlock is working mother of three children; Ella, age 9, Jack, age 5 and Penny, 9 months. She is a surviver of PND and blogs at Seriously Mammy.
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