Postnatal depression guide for dads

Postnatal depression: Guide for dads

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.

Postnatal depression guide for dads

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.

Postnatal depression guide for dads

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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Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Yoga with baby

Babies are very sensitive to their mum’s mood so when mum relaxes, baby relaxes, a win-win situation!


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.