When your wife has postpartum depression (PPD), which affects about 1 in 7 women after childbirth, you might feel confused, annoyed, scared, sad, worried or any combination of these. My husband certainly did. You might be thinking, “Why can’t she just be happy? What’s wrong with her? Aren’t new moms supposed to be happy now that the baby’s finally here? What’s going on?” Remember that PPD is a biochemical disorder which is no one’s fault – not yours or hers. Although you can’t fix it like you can a broken cabinet or leaky faucet, it’s your job to support her as she recovers. Here are some pointers that will help you to help her and your relationship:
(Excerpts from Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression by Bennett and Indman)
• Just being there with her is doing a great deal. Letting her know you support her is often all she’ll need. Ask her what words she needs to hear for reassurance, and say those words to her often. Things like, “We’ll get through this. I’m here for you. I love you very much. You’re a great mom. The baby loves you. You’ll get yourself back. The PPD is temporary. I’m sorry you’re suffering – that must feel awful. This isn’t your fault.”
• Lower your expectations. Even a non-depressed new mom can’t realistically be expected to cook dinner and clean house. She may be guilt-tripping herself about not measuring up to her own expectations and worrying that you’ll also be disappointed with her. Remind her that parenting your child(ren) and taking care of your home is also your job, not just hers. Your relationship will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.
• Let her sleep at night. She needs at least 5 hour of uninterrupted sleep per night to receive a full sleep cycle and restore her biorhythms (Chapter 11 of Postpartum Depression For Dummies explains in detail how splitting the night can work even if she’s breastfeeding or you need to leave the house early for work.) If you want your wife back quicker, be on duty for this time without disturbing her. Many dads have expressed how much closer they are to their children because of nighttime caretaking.