You’ve welcomed home baby and in the weeks that follow, you and your husband are trying to find your new groove. Only, something doesn’t quite feel right.
Maybe you dismiss it, thinking that you’re both sleep deprived and everyone is adjusting. Or perhaps you notice that your husband is more outwardly frustrated and spending more time alone, withdrawn. When you ask him if everything is okay, he doesn’t quite know how to put words to it.
What you do notice is that there is a greater distance between you two. You no longer eat meals together. He retreats to another room, to his phone or easy distractions. Or maybe you’re noticing more alarming changes, like an uptake in alcohol or increased irritability and impatience. What I commonly hear new parents asking is this: Can men have postpartum depression? And if so, what can we do to help our partner and relationship if we are struggling?
Postpartum Depression in Men
Despite commonly talked about for women, fathers are also at risk for developing depression, anxiety or mood disorders following the welcoming of a child. Approximately 10% of fathers experience perinatal depression, with the onset of symptoms frequently appearing during the three to six month postpartum period. In addition to persistent sadness, symptoms tend to look different for fathers such as more outward anger compared to women who tend to internalize their guilt, irritability and frustration. Men experiencing perinatal depression show increased withdrawal and isolation, self-blame and feelings of hopelessness, and increased use of alcohol/substances.
If you suspect that you or your partner are struggling with depression, please see your primary care provider or a licensed mental health care provider trained in providing psychotherapy to parents postpartum. You can find more at Postpartum Support International.
How can you help support your husband’s postpartum?
1. Nurture your identity.
Nurturing the parts of us outside of being parents is incredibly important, although I know parents can find it difficult to prioritize things that bring them personal joy and pleasure. Schedule in advance where you each get your own time to play, connect with social support, or see family. Make a commitment to yourself and each other that even if you don’t feel you have the energy to leave the house (as depression often wants to keep you withdrawn and on the couch), it’s worth it to get out for a 15 minute walk or an easy drive with some of your favorite music on.
2. Prioritize sleep.
Together as a team, develop a schedule to help one partner get a longer stretch of solid sleep. Sleep is incredibly important when it comes to our mental health and is a protective factor against mental health difficulties.
3. Be open and direct.
Open the conversation around mental health with “I notice…” statements. In a healthy relationship, partners influence each other and support their overall growth. If you’ve struggled during this time, share this with them as well to normalize and validate the hard transition to parenthood. Remember, vulnerability opens the dialogue for more openness.
How do you maintain a strong relationship?
1. Do small things together and frequently.
Agree to either eat a meal together or take 10 minutes sitting on the couch without distractions. You might ask each other questions about your day, hopes and wishes for the future, or play a game together.
2. Practice daily rituals.
These are things that you do that lead you to feel close, and are often part of regular routines. Do you greet each other at the door? Do you allow yourself to have a longer kiss and hug? Try a 6 second kiss or 30 second hug everyday.
3. Express gratitude and appreciation.
In addition to learning each other’s love languages, it’s human nature to want to be acknowledged by the one we feel close to. These don’t take a lot of time and are great modeling to your children what it means to build a connected and close relationship.
During this new time where your worlds have been turned upside down, remember that it is normal to experience changes in your self-identity as your “new normal” begins to shape. Remember you are a team and that you can get through this together. Don’t wait to reach out to an expert, to one another, to loved ones and to available resources if you are struggling, you are far from alone.