Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are defined as distress that arises during pregnancy (perinatal) and throughout the first year after pregnancy (postpartum). The intensity of PMADs can range from mild to severe.
It can be overwhelming or confusing when your partner is given a PMAD diagnosis. You may not know where to begin and feel as a partner. Often partners will express that they really WANT to be supportive but it can feel like they’re walking on eggshells. In this article, we are going to let you know about the strategies and tips on how to support a partner struggling postpartum.
4 Strategies to Help your Partner with PMADs
1) Inform yourself
Informing yourself about PMADs is a great place to start. Here is some key information to know.
- PMADs are common. They affect at least 1 in 5 women postpartum (not to mention the significant underreporting in this population, so this number is likely higher).
- The birth of a baby is a particularly challenging time for a woman’s mental health. Women are twice as likely to experience a mental health concern postpartum, than at any other time in their life.
- PMADs are not a woman’s fault. They are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors, some of which we don’t yet understand.
- PMADs can be serious but are treatable with the right support, therapy, connecting with community, and medications.
2) Validate & encourage
Very often women with PMADs are feeling as though:
- people are judging them as ‘bad mothers’
- they are failing their family
- they are alone in their struggle
- others don’t understand what they are going through
- they are completely exhausted and yet feel like they aren’t accomplishing enough
- they are going crazy / something is wrong
Validation and encouragement are what they need! It can sound like:
- “I see you trying your very best for our family. Thank you.”
- “I’m here. You are NOT alone in this.”
- “I see how hard this is for you right now.”
- “I know you don’t feel like yourself… are you ready to get some extra support?”
3) Support good sleep habits
Sleep deprivation postpartum is par for the course. On a biological level, the sleep-deprived brain is significantly compromised in its ability to use divergent thinking, filter stimuli, respond appropriately, and make decisions. And, the brain also experiences an increased sensitivity in the overall fear response (i.e. an activated nervous system, which can result in being on edge, irritable, and anxious). As you can imagine, these can really intensify existing emotional distress and impact how one shows up in the relationship.
You can help by encouraging good sleep hygiene such as limiting caffeine intake, maintaining a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing some sort of relaxation/mindfulness strategies before sleep. You can also alternate responsibilities for taking care of their infant so that each of you gets a chance for some consecutive hours of sleep.
4) Seek to understand, not to solve the problem
It can be frustrating when you feel your efforts in supporting your partner doesn’t seem to be helping. Don’t be discouraged and remember your presence and understanding are more crucial to her than an instant solution. Even if she does not respond as you would hope, the fact that you are there for her is helpful.
You can also learn to ask supportive questions, which are:
- Open-ended (i.e. phrased in such a way that assumptions are not made that she IS ok)
- Giving space to speak more broadly about her emotional state and there is no pressure to respond
Generally speaking, women with PMADs who are more supported by their partners do better. This can include less severe mental health symptoms, faster recovery from PMADs, as well as increased relationship satisfaction.
If you are in the midst of the journey, have faith that both of you will be better bit-by-bit together. To learn more, you can read the book ‘Postpartum Husband’, by Karen Kleiman (despite the terminology, this book applies to partners, and even friends or loved ones as well), and look at the website for Postpartum Support International for more resources.
Looking for another way to help?
Download our Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Workbook, an easy-to-read workbook with thoughtfully designed exercises, information, and techniques to help a postpartum parent manage their mental health and feel more like themselves again!