What to Do When Your Partner Has Postpartum Depression

What to Do When Your Partner Has Postpartum Depression

new mom and dad

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Most of us imagine that the time after our baby is born will be one of joy and togetherness. Sure, we expect to be stretched thin and exhausted, but most of us don’t associate new parenthood with debilitating depression or anxiety.

Yet with as many as 1 in 7 new mothers experiencing postpartum depression after birth, it’s not uncommon for partners to find themselves nurturing their spouse’s mental health at the same time they are figuring out how to soothe their newborn and keep up with diaper changes and feedings.

Being the partner of someone who is struggling with postpartum depression is an enormous challenge. You may feel worried for your partner, concerned about your baby—and overwhelmed with the responsibility of helping your partner feel better. You may even feel anger and resentment about what is going on (that’s normal too!).

Rest assured, although postpartum depression is a mental illness that requires professional help, you have a very important role in helping your partner recover—and there are many simple, straightforward steps you can take to make that happen.

Understanding Your Role

Postpartum depression is a serious mental condition that requires professional help. It is not your responsibility to diagnose your partner with postpartum depression. You are not your partner’s therapist. Postpartum depression is partly caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that often requires medical treatment, and it’s not your job to tackle that aspect of it.

However, you do have a critical role to play in supporting your partner and helping them cope with their diagnosis. After all, you are the one home with them and the baby the majority of the time, and you are likely someone they lean on for emotional support.

One of the hardest aspects of helping your partner work through postpartum depression is that sometimes your partner will seem to push you away. Postpartum depression can make someone feel a whole myriad of emotions, including anger and rage. Sometimes that aggression may be directed toward you.

When this happens, try to keep things in perspective. Although your partner may have valid frustrations with you, expressing anger toward you and pushing you away is their postpartum depression taking over here, so try not to take it personally.

In general, your best bet when dealing with your spouse’s postpartum depression is to play the role of listener and “safe space.” Here’s what that means:

  • Listen to your spouse and allow them to express their feelings without judgment.
  • Don’t try to “fix” their feelings; validate what they are feeling and empathize as best you can.
  • Help your partner understand that you don’t blame them for how they are feeling; postpartum depression isn’t their fault, nor is it yours.
  • Help your partner understand that what they are experiencing is temporary.
  • Reassure your partner that treatment for postpartum depression works, and they will feel like themselves again.

7 Things You Can Do to Help Your Partner

Support for moms living with postpartum depression needs to be emotional, of course. But there are many practical things you can do to make your partner’s life easier and less overwhelming.

Part of what makes postpartum depression so difficult to manage is that many new moms simply don’t have any time for the basics like sleep, relaxation, and even eating a healthy meal. Helping your partner accomplish these things—as well as supporting them through the rollercoaster of their emotions—is vital.

Here’s what you can do:

Make Yourself Available

If you are working while your partner is on maternity leave, you may feel a pull toward working as much as possible to ensure that the bills get paid. That’s important, too, of course, but if there are any ways that you can make yourself more available at home, now is the time to do so.

Maybe you can go in late a few days a week so your partner can sleep in, or so that you can get up in the middle of the night with the baby. Maybe you can work from home once or twice a week so you are around more often. Many moms battling postpartum depression experience loneliness and isolation: just having someone else around can help abundantly.

Give Your Partner Some “Me Time”

One of the triggers of postpartum depression is the enormous identity change that happens when a mother has a baby. She may feel that her pre-baby self is nowhere to be found and this can feel scary and disorienting.

That’s why it can be very helpful to give your partner some “me time.” Even just an hour or two a week of alone time for your partner—or for them to pursue a hobby or go for coffee with a friend—can make a huge difference for their mental health.

Help Out Around the House

Many new moms feel pressure to be the perfect parent and the perfect housekeeper. But that is simply not possible. You can help your partner have more realistic expectations about what it means to have a tidy house (i.e., messes are to be expected right now!).

But you can also pitch in and help out whenever possible. It’s best if you do so without being asked, because your partner having to ask you is a chore unto itself. However, if it helps, you make a list with your partner of what needs to be done on a daily basis so that you will have an idea of where you can step in.

Let Your Partner Sleep

There is an association between sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, so allowing your partner to catch up on those zzz’s will be an important part of them feeling better. The reality is, though, that babies just don’t allow for a lot of uninterrupted sleep, so you’ll have to work around your baby’s erratic schedule.

Consider things like dividing up the nighttime parenting more equally between the two of you, arranging for times that your partner can nap while you tend to the baby, or letting them sleep late on weekends or on days when you can go in late to work. 

Feed Your Partner

Healthy eating habits can help your partner feel more balanced and well. It can feel virtually impossible to eat regularly and healthfully when you are tending to an infant, but you can help your partner in this department.

You can bring them meals as they are feeding or nursing the baby. You can ensure that there are healthy snacks and drinks strategically placed around the house where your partner might need them. And you can cook and shop for your partner if you don’t already.

Reassure Your Partner That’s She’s A Good Mom

One of the most common thoughts that moms who are experiencing postpartum depression have is that they aren’t good moms. They believe that they are inadequate, have no idea what they are doing, and are failing their babies in some way. One of the most important things you can do right now is reassure your partner that this isn’t the case.

And don’t just say, “You’re a good mom”—point out the many things she is doing every minute for your baby and your family. Give her concrete examples that show how she persevered even when things got tough, and highlight the ways that she has sacrificed to keep her baby healthy and loved.

Your Own Mental Health is Important, Too

Being a caregiver for someone who is experiencing postpartum depression can take a toll on your own mental health. It can be really upsetting to see your partner this way. You may blame yourself for what has happened. And you may be feeling overwhelmed and depleted in your role as caretaker.

Remember that you don’t have to do this alone. If you have other trusted adults in your life—especially ones your partner trusts—ask for help. You’d be surprised at how many people will want to help your family. It truly takes a village, and sometimes all you have to do is reach out for your village to appear in your time of need.

You also may want to connect to other spouses whose partners are navigating postpartum depression. Just as there are support groups for postpartum depression sufferers, there are support groups for people like you. There are also online support forums that can be very helpful if you don’t think you have the time to attend an in-person group.

As always, if you are finding that your own mental health is suffering right now—whether because of your spouse’s struggles, or just because being a new parent is challenging—you should feel free to reach out to a therapist or counselor for help.

The fact is, between 2-20% of new dads suffer from postpartum mood disorders themselves, and according to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), taking care of a spouse who has postpartum depression increases your risk of developing it yourself by 50%. So make sure to reach out for help if you feel you might be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.

A Word From Verywell

Helping your partner navigate the dark waters of postpartum depression is not what you signed up for, and you may be feeling disappointed and discouraged by what you and your family are experiencing. Those are natural responses to the situation. You should let yourself feel whatever you need to feel about what is happening—but try not to let these emotions get the better of you.

The truth is, postpartum depression is common and treatable. Neither your nor your partner are to blame for what is happening, and you should know that you aren’t alone. So many couples experience this, and many come out stronger and resilient in the end.

Healing from postpartum depression is possible, and supportive partners like you are one the key elements your partner needs to get through this. You’ve got this—and you and your family are going to be okay.

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Article Sources
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  1. Lewis BA, Gjerdingen D, Schuver K, Avery M, Marcus BH. The effect of sleep pattern changes on postpartum depressive symptoms. BMC Womens Health. 2018;18(1):12.doi:10.1186/s12905-017-0496-6

Additional Reading
  • Dads Can Get Depression During and After Pregnancy, Too. Academic of American Pediatrics website. Updated December 17, 2018.

  • Lewis, B.A., Gjerdingen, D., Schuver, K. et al. The effect of sleep pattern changes on postpartum depressive symptoms. BMC Women's Health 18, 12 (2018). doi:10.1186/s12905-017-0496-6.

  • Postpartum Depression. American Psychological Association website. Updated April 29, 2020.

  • Tips for Postpartum Dads and Partners. Postpartum Support International (PSI) website. Updated April 29, 2020.