The transition into parenthood is a profound and transformative experience. The months leading up to bringing baby home are often filled with anticipation, joy, fear, anxiety, and more. And once you welcome that tiny, new family member into your home, those emotions only tend to magnify — understandably so. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are common conditions that affect some parents during pregnancy and the postpartum period. If someone you care about is struggling during this vulnerable time, there are things you can do to help. If you are concerned about your partner or simply want to make the perinatal period as smooth as possible, this guide is here to help you find practical ways to offer your support.
Before we delve into the ways you can support your partner if they are struggling with a PMAD, it’s important to clarify a few things about these disorders. PMADs are real; they are not a sign of weakness or failure; they are common and treatable mental health conditions that affect many new parents. In fact, 15 to 20% of women experience symptoms of depression or anxiety during the perinatal period (Howard et al., 2014; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). More so, about 10% of partners have depression, mood, or anxiety problems and studies have found that around 50% of men who have partners diagnosed with postpartum depression will go on to develop depression themselves (Langdon, 2022). All this to say, in order for mothers, babies, and families to thrive, it is crucial to know what to look for and what to do if you find that your loved one is struggling. In order to begin offering support, remember to:
PMADs can affect anyone, regardless of their background, and they are not a reflection on one’s ability to parent.
RECOGNIZE THE RANGE OF SYMPTOMS
PMADs can manifest in various ways, from sadness and anxiety to intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. It’s essential to recognize the full spectrum of experiences as valid.
SEEK INTERVENTION IN A TIMELY MANNER
Early intervention is critical. If you suspect your loved one is experiencing a PMAD, encourage them to seek professional help. Therapy can make a significant difference.
So what can you do as a partner?
Educate yourself: The first step in supporting a loved one with a PMAD is to learn more. Understanding the symptoms, vulnerability factors, and treatment options will help you empathize and empower you to take actions. The saying that knowledge is power is true. To learn more about PMADs and treatment options, we invite you to take a look at our Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health Guide.
Listen: Listen compassionately and non-judgmentally while avoiding the urge to “fix.” Let your loved one express their feelings and don’t be afraid of them being afraid. Allow them to be frustrated; this is a frustrating time. Avoid advice giving or putting a silver lining on a moment of pain. An open mind and heart is often the very thing a new parent needs to feel held. After all, they are spending so much of their time holding that space for the baby, it means the world to get some of that for themselves.
Offer practical help: You don’t ask a drowning person if they need a life raft, you just toss it in and help them get to it. New parents often have their hands full and don’t know exactly what they need. Offer concrete assistance, such as meal prep, running errands, and making sure the water cup is always full. A small task off the list goes a long way to create mental space.
Help them prioritize self care: Encouraging them to sleep when the baby sleeps is a good start, but it can’t end there. Remind them that they cannot pour from an empty vessel and that their self care is a top priority. Offer to care for the baby for a set amount of time to make it possible for them to shower, eat a hot meal without getting up, or watch their favorite show.
Accompany them to appointments: If your loved one is in therapy, has a medical appointment, or a lactation consult, offer to come along. Even if you end up scrolling on social media during the appointment, your presence can help ease the stress of transportation, the anxiety and loneliness in the waiting room, and the overall burden of these types of activities.
Be mindful of language: Avoid stigmatizing terms or suggestions that they should “snap out of it.” PMADs are real medical conditions and should be treated as such.
Respect boundaries: Whether these are boundaries around visitors, sleep schedules, or choices in treatment, respect your partner’s wishes. Offer support without trying to control their choices.
Supporting a loved one through the perinatal time can be hard. When your loved one is struggling with a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder, it can be overwhelming to say the least. Your presence, empathy, and understanding can make a huge difference in their lives with ripple effects for generations. Remember: PMADs are common and treatable. With the right support and professional help, your loved one can ride the waves of the most difficult times and find their way to calmer waters. It is important to be patient, compassionate, and proactive in your support.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a PMAD, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We know you’ve heard it before, but really – it takes a village.
Howard, L. M., Molyneaux, E., Dennis, C.-L., Rochat, T., Stein, A., & Milgrom, J. (2014). Non-psychotic mental disorders in the perinatal period. The Lancet, 384(9956), 1775–1788. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(14)61276-9
Langdon, K. (2022, March 21). Postpartum Depression Statistics. Postpartum Depression. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.postpartumdepression.org/resources/