My husband and I received a ton of information about postpartum depression during our birthing class. We were told I might feel sad after childbirth, and learned about the warning signs of something more serious than the "baby blues." We didn't learn a thing, though, about postpartum anxiety. While I showed clear signs of anxiety in my first weeks of motherhood, I had no idea what was happening, and my husband had no idea how dads can help with postpartum anxiety.
A little anxiety is to be expected as a new parent, but for new parents with postpartum anxiety (PPA), it can be all-consuming. Symptoms of PPA can including constant worrying, fear the worst will happen, and not being able to sleep or eat, according to Postpartum Support International. As a new mom, I worried about everything. Was she breathing at night? Was she getting enough to eat? Would I forget her in the back seat of the car? My husband, at the time, dismissed my concerns as silly or ridiculous; completely unaware that he could help me manage my anxiety instead of simply telling me not to worry.
According to a 2013 study published in Pediatrics, PPA may be more common than postpartum depression, affecting 16 percent of the 1,123 moms who participated in the study. In other words, it's worthwhile for all moms-to-be and their partners to learn about PPA before they bring their baby home from the hospital.
To learn more about how partners can be aware of the signs of PPA and help their partners weather the storm, Romper spoke with Kristen Treat, LMHP, LPC, a counselor specializing in postpartum mood disorders at Butterfly Kisses Family Support Services and local coordinator of Postpartum Support International. Her advice was for partners to not dismiss a new parent's anxiety, and instead provide support to empower them to get the help they need.
For more on these ideas and other ways new dads and partners of any gender can help with postpartum anxiety, read on:
Know The Warning Signs
Since a little anxiety can be normal for all new parents, it can be hard to know when someone needs help for PPA. "The obvious signs are things like constant worry and obsessive thoughts," Treat tells me. "Less obvious signs are a great deal of moodiness or irritability, anger, a persistent doubt about her ability to care for the baby, and feeling a great deal of unease about anyone else holding or caring for the baby."
Unfortunately, if your partner keeps these worries to themselves, PPA can be harder to spot. That's why Treat advises partners to look for outward signs, telling Romper, "Symptoms like racing thoughts can be seen by a partner as her talking really fast or being unable to sit still. Another sign can be the inability to fall back asleep after getting up with baby in the middle of the night."
Don't Be Dismissive
"It's important to keep in mind that anxiety in general is a wonderful thing. It helps to keep us safe. It is very important not to be dismissive of it," Treat tells me. "Telling a new mom that whatever she is worried about won’t happen may seem like a good idea, but it can make the mom feel like her concerns are not being taken seriously."
Because a new parent with anxiety can have and express some some pretty serious and frightening worries, it's important to make them feel safe telling you, Treat tells me.
"One of the biggest things is not to over- or under-react to what she may tell you," she says. "Some of her thoughts may sound scary to you, and are also very scary to her. By reaching out and telling you these thoughts she is being extremely vulnerable." Treat says it's important for dads to reassure their partners that they're there, that they love them, and that they can help their partner reach out to a professional if necessary.
Don't Contribute To Their Mental Load
Because people with anxiety already have too much on their minds, the last thing they need is more to worry about. It's important to listen and validate you partner, but it's equally important to not expect them to do more than they handle.
It's also helpful to recognize that things need to be done and simply take care of it yourself, before your partner stresses about it enough to ask you for help.
Help Where You Can
For a mom experiencing postpartum anxiety, breaks are necessary, since fatigue is a major contributing factor in worsening symptoms, according to Postpartum Support International. That's why it's important that partners, you know, do their part. Take care of the child care, the house work, meals, and other responsibilities so your partner can rest.
People with postpartum anxiety can often have a short fuse, according to Postpartum Support International, and can grow angry for seemingly no reason. It's important for their partners to not take things too personally, and be gentle in how they approach arguments. Maintaining open lines of communication, discussing your own feelings, and taking breaks if tempers rise are all important when helping your partner with PPA.
It's important to not blame a new parent for their anxiety, or dismiss their concerns or fears as unimportant, Treat tells me. "Instead, I recommend helping her to recognize that what she is worried about could be a concern, and empowering her about the things she is doing that make it unlikely to happen."
Let Them Take The Lead
Treat tells new parents to let their partner with anxiety take the lead when it comes to doing things that make her anxious. "Some moms obviously have to be separate from the baby for things like work or other important events," she says. "It tends to be most helpful for mom to lead it, and for her partner to help her to explore what would make her feel more secure in the separations, while setting her own boundaries on what she is and is not willing to do."
Encourage Them To Get Help
"When in doubt, check it out. The transition into parenthood is such a complex time of change that having a skilled mental health professional on board is rarely going to be a bad idea," Treat tells Romper. "Postpartum Support International has trained volunteers who can help a family navigate what options are available."
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.