• Supporting a partner suffering from Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)

    Perinatal or postpartum mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) is defined as distress that arises during pregnancy (perinatal) and throughout the first year after pregnancy (postpartum). The intensity of PMAD can range from mild to severe.

    It can be overwhelmed or confused when your partner is given a diagnosis of PMAD. You may not know where to begin and feel difficult as a partner. Often partners will express that they really WANT to be supportive but it can feel like walking on eggshells. In this article, we are going to let you know about the strategies and tips on how to support a woman struggling postpartum.

    There are 4 foundational strategies that you can offer to help your partner with PMAD

    1)⁠ Inform yourself

    Informing yourself about PMADs is a great place to start.⁠ Here is some key information you should know. PMADs are common. They affect at least 1 in 5 women in their postpartum (not to mention the significant underreporting in this population).
    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 treatable, with the right support, therapy, connecting with other mothers, 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
    • like 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 is common in mothers in their postpartum. 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 the predominant emotional distress and impact how one shows up in the relationship. ⁠

    You can help by fostering her sleep hygiene that improves sleep, such as controlling caffeine intake, maintaining a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing some sort of relaxation before sleep. You can also alternate responsibilities for taking care of their infant so that each of you gets a chance for good sleep.

    4)⁠ Seek to understand, not to solve the problem

    It can be frustrating to you when you feel your effort to support your partner seems not to be effective in reviving her mood. Don’t be discouraged and remember your accompany and understanding are more crucial to her than an instant solution. Even if she does not respond right away as you may expect, 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, keep the faith that both of you will be better bit by bit together. In case you would like to learn more about the issue, you can go to the book ‘Postpartum Husband’, by Karen Kleiman (despite the terminology, this book applies to partners, and even friends or loved ones as well), and the website of Postpartum Support International for more resources.

    Looking for another way to help?

    Access our NEW Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Workbook, 52 pages of carefully designed exercises, information, and techniques to help a woman manage her mental health and feel more like herself!