The Mental Health Association of NSW is behind Postnatal Awareness Week 13-19 November with a snappy post card campaign hitting the mailboxes of birth workers recently. The headline is EVERY SUPERMUM NEEDS A SIDEKICK. The “sidekick” they have in mind is a GP, midwife or child and family health nurse. These are such important resources to new parents but a new mum’s most important sidekick is really HER PARTNER. Here are some tips specifically for new dads on how to handle the first signs of postnatal depression and the roller coaster of those first few weeks and months:
Know the difference between the baby blues and postnatal depression.
On about day three after the birth, about 80% of women experience an unexplained tearfulness, often referred to as the “baby blues”. This is just the hormonal adjustment to breastfeeding and no longer being pregnant and it’s OK for her to cry and be a sorry-sack for a day or two. Don’t try to be a bloke and solve her problems. Just let her be sad and tell her you love her. Tell her she’s the most gorgeous woman on the planet and that she’s even more beautiful with your baby in her arms. Give her a cuddle.
Take the next step if your partner’s sadness, after giving birth, continues for more than a few days
If your partner’s sadness goes on for more than a few days, that’s when you need to go and see your GP together to make sure she’s not suffering from postnatal depression (PND). According to Beyond Blue, PND affects almost 16% of new mothers. There are a number of factors that can contribute to the onset of PND including a past history of depression, a stressful pregnancy, prolonged labour or difficult birth, lack of practical, financial or emotional support (all that support comes from you, sunshine), difficulties with breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and having unrealistic expectations of motherhood.
Women who suffer from PND need to see a doctor and consider psychological treatment and/or medication to manage what is a treatable condition, but can sometimes be a serious issue for you and your family. Don’t brush this off as something that might just pass or that might be considered a weakness. You need to take your partner to see your GP.
Make sure that your partner is well supported in these first days, weeks and months after your baby is born and take time to nurture your relationship. A new mother is less likely to suffer from PND if she feels well supported by her partner. Help her find time to do things she enjoys other than caring for your new baby and spend time listening to your partner without feeling the need to solve all her problems and offer solutions. Don’t take your partner’s moodiness or irritability personally. It’s not about you.
Help her get some exercise
Some exercise will certainly help your partner with her mood and the easiest solution for fitting exercise into your life is to put your baby in the pram and go for walks with your partner. Start with a 30-minute walk a few times a week and then build up to a 45-minute walk every day. Your energy levels will increase and so will your partner’s self esteem. Most babies love a walk in the pram too and it gives you time to talk to each other.
Steady on in the booze department
Does this need further discussion? You’re a new dad, you have new and demanding responsibilities. If you are a regular drinker, lay off the booze for a while so that you can be emotionally available and practically useful to your partner rather than parked in front of the box with a beer in each hand. It’s not permanent and you will survive. You may even notice some sudden health benefits!
Look after yourself too
Sleep deprivation can be really tough on both of you in those first weeks. Make sure that you and your partner are each getting a total of 8 hours sleep every 24 hours. This might be four sleeps of two hours at a time, but aim for a total of eight hours in a day. You’ll soon get used to napping whenever you can. In our house, sleep became currency. “I’ll clean the entire house if you let me sleep for two hours,” was a typical bargain when our kids were newborns.
Between three and ten percent of new fathers suffer from postnatal depression. According to the Raising Children Network: “Depression in new fathers has been found to begin before the birth of their child, with minimal recovery by the end of the first year. There’s also evidence to suggest that mens’ depression increases between six weeks and six months after childbirth. For example, one study found that three out of 10 men were depressed at six weeks, and that their depression got worse during the next six months. There is also growing evidence that anxiety might be a problem for some men during the antenatal and postnatal period.” Click here for the full article.
Men are notorious for not seeking medical help when they need it and PND is often thought of as something that only women suffer from. So stop with the Superman Act and get yourself off to your GP for an assessment if you feel persistently unhappy in the weeks and months after your baby is born. You are not equipped to support your partner if you are suffering from PND yourself.
Eat properly. Real food.
Remember: this life stage is not permanent but PND can be serious
You may feel neglected during this stage in your life but it’s not permanent. Don’t assume there is something wrong with your relationship and don’t hold it against you partner that she is so focussed on your newborn baby. She’s hormonally programmed to do what she’s doing. When I interviewed Dr Charlie Teo, a well-known Australian neurosurgeon, about his experiences when his babies were born, he emphasised how hard he found that stage after his first daughter was born. For about six months, he says he received no attention whatsoever from his partner. He was sad and lonely and wished someone had told him that this stage was not permanent, that his wife would notice him again and that their sex life would kick off again (they went on to have three more daughters so it clearly did kick off again).
Most importantly, remember that YOU are your partner’s sidekick, her most important support and her beloved partner. Take PND seriously, have it treated professionally and stay by your partner’s side as you navigate these early weeks, months and years.
Lucy Perry is the author of Cheers to Childbirth: A dad’s guide to childbirth support (Pure Publishing 2010) available at www.cheerstochildbirth.com.au
For further resources on post natal depression and mental health see these websites and call centres
Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
PANDA 1300 726 306