If your wife is suffering from postpartum depression, you may find yourself feeling helpless. You may feel frustrated, confused, and desperate to find a way to help things get back to normal.
What can you do when your wife has post-partum depression to help support her recovery?
It can be difficult to know what to do when your wife has post-partum depression, but it’s important to remember that she will get better and your life with her and your child can get back to normal. Studies show that the support from their spouse can a woman’s significantly impact a woman’s recovery from postpartum depression. You have more power to influence your wife’s recover than you (or she) may believe.
1. Make sure she is getting the help she needs
It is difficult to overcome postpartum depression without professional help. With the help of a mental health professional and your wife’s healthcare provider, you and your wife can find the recovery option that’s best for her. This may include:
*If your wife hasn’t yet been diagnosed with postpartum depression but you feel something is wrong or “off,” it’s time to have a doctor or mental health professional evaluate the situation.
2. Support her treatment – even if you’re skeptical
Recovery can take from several weeks to several months. The more supportive you are of this process the faster recovery will be. Even if you’re skeptical about the diagnosis or treatment, your support (or lack of support) will directly impact your wife’s recovery process.
3. Help her feel understood
Overcoming postpartum depression isn’t an easy fix. It takes hard work and commitment to overcome the depression. Listen to her when she speaks without judgment, sarcasm, or anger.
4. Listen to her feelings instead of trying to talk her out of them
It’s more important that you listenthan it is for you to try and fixeverything. When she’s talking about her feelings, try phrases like “It sounds like you’re feeling really ______.” (frustrated, unsupported, overwhelmed) then give her the opportunity to keep talking. In many instances, just being heard and understood can help alleviate negative feelings (and bring feelings of connectedness).
You may also try understanding + support phrases like, “I know you’re feeling _____, but you’re doing so many amazing things as a mother already.” Or “I can tell you’re feeling _____, but we’re doing everything we need to do to get you feeling better.”
5. Trust her instinct with treatment if something feels “off”
There’s no one-size-fits-all fix for post-partum depression. Everyone’s recovery path is a little different, just as every mother is a little different. If something feels like it isn’t working, talk to your doctor about trying something new.
6. Let her know you know it’s not her fault.
Postpartum depression isn’t caused by your wife doing something wrong, thinking negatively, or being weak-minded. It’s important for your wife’s recovery to understand it’s not her fault and for her to believe you’re not blaming her.
7. Be patient – recovery takes time
Recovery takes time; there’s no miracle fix. With a combination of medication and a postpartum programor individual therapy, acute symptoms can diminish in 2-6 weeks as medications reach maximum effectiveness. During this time, your wife will have established a relationship with her mental health professional and will start seeing improvements from those sessions as well.
8. Don’t fall for her “happy façade”
Even if your wife is putting on a happy face and continuing to function and take care of things, she may not feel that way on the inside. Check up on her. Ask her how she’s feeling—really. Let her know that you know it’s difficult and that she’s probably feeling overwhelmed or sad, even if she isn’t telling you, and let her know you’re there for her if she needs you. This will validate her feelings and may help her to open up which can be important for the healing process.
9. Don’t pull away
You may be feeling frustrated by her lack of interest or attention, disconnectedness, or may be feeling like she just doesn’t care about your marriage anymore. We know it’s hard, but your wife willget better and you will have your happy, loving, wife and marriage back again. But your wife can’t do it without your help. You being there for her is immensely important to her treatment.
10. Reassure her when she’s ruminating
A symptom of postpartum depression is obsession or hyper-focus on a thought or idea (ruminating). Your wife might ask you the same thing over and over. “Am I a bad mother?” “Do you feel like this is my fault?” No matter how many times you answer her, she’ll have trouble believing you. It’s important to be persistent and loving in your response, even though it’s frustrating.
11. Have a secret code word
If your wife’s ruminating becomes excessive, you may explain to her what ruminating is and how it’s a common symptom of postpartum depression. It may help to agree upon a “secret code word” or phrase that you can say when your wife is ruminating to signal the repetition.
12. Ask her if she’s having negative thoughts
Even though it’s alarming, women with postpartum depression may sometimes have intrusive, negative thoughts. These may include fears that she will hurt herself or the baby, or that a terrible accident or mistake is impending. Most women don’t want to share these feelings because they’re afraid they’ll be labeled as crazy or incompetent as a mother.
Ask your wife if she’s having these thoughts and reassure her they are normal. Often just talking about these feelings can help decrease their burden. Don’t be frightened or protective when she shares these thoughts as they’re not actually an indication that she will act on these actions. Remind her that they’re just thoughts and that you trust her and know she won’t act on them.
*While rare, postpartum psychosis is real. If you feel your wife or your baby are in real danger, seek the help of a mental health professional immediately.
13. Keep an eye on her sleep patterns
Having a new baby naturally disrupts you and your wife’s sleep cycles, but postpartum depression can cause sleep difficulties beyond baby care and can exacerbate symptoms of depression. If your wife hasn’t gotten more than 3 hours of sleep a night for several nights in a row, it’s important to bring to her doctor. Try to have specific information about how much sleep she is (or is not) getting.
14. Take recovery seriously
Postpartum depression should be taken seriously; it shouldn’t be something you ignore and hope goes away on its own. Remember, your support and comfort are essential to your wife’s recovery. If you can be there for her and be supportive, understanding, and loving, recovery will be a faster and smoother process.
15. Ask her what you can do to help
Can you help hire outside help to take care of cleaning the house for a while? Can you pick up takeout on the way home so she doesn’t feel pressured to cook? Can you watch the baby for an hour in the mornings (or help find a neighbor or family member who can help) so your wife can go for a walk or meet up with a friend or loved one? Can you help set limits with friends and family who may be inundating her with visits or communication when she’d rather have some alone time?
16. Help her get out of the house once in a while
Even if your wife is resistant, it’s important to get fresh air for a few minutes every day. Ask a neighbor or family member to watch the baby for 20 minutes while you and your wife go for a walk. Take the baby for a quick lunch or early dinner somewhere with outdoor seating.
17. Tell her she’s a good mother
Help your wife see her “wins” each day. Remind her she’s a good mother and help her see everything she’s doing each day despite feeling lousy. Even if her depression is debilitating and she’s unable to care for your child, remind her that the baby is receiving love and comfort while she gets better, and her working through her depression to get better meansshe’s a good mother.
18. Build in breaks for yourself
It can be exhausting and overwhelming supporting and helping someone who is feeling negatively. Give yourself time each day to recover and take a breather—but don’t use these breaks as an excuse to pull away or avoid the situation. Remember, your wife needs you and recovery will take much longer without your support.