Baby Brought the Blues

Dear Mr. Dad: My beautiful son was born just a few weeks ago and I’m overjoyed. But my wife is a different story. She’s very down in the dumps, barely eats, and has no energy. I know that giving birth took a toll on her, but I’m worried. What should I do?

A: About 70% of new mothers experience periods of mild sadness, weepiness, mood swings, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, inability to make decisions, anger, or anxiety after the baby is born. These “baby blues,” which many believe are caused by hormonal shifts in a new mother’s body, can last for hours or days, but in most cases, they disappear within a few weeks. One researcher Edward Hagen, however, believes that postpartum blues has less to do with hormones and is really caused by low levels of social support—especially from the father. It could be, he says, the new mother’s way of “negotiating” for more involvement.

From your description, your wife is already exhibiting some of the symptoms of baby blues. Right now, there’s not much you can do except be as supportive and involved as possible. Take on more of the childcare responsibilities, encourage her to get out of the house for a while, and see to it that she’s eating healthily. Most of what she’s going through is completely normal and is nothing to worry about. So be patient, and don’t expect her to bounce back immediately.

That said, for 10% to 20% of new moms, the baby blues develop into “postpartum depression,” which is more serious. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, postpartum depression, if not recognized and treated, may become worse or last longer than it needs to. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

• Baby blues that don’t go away after two weeks, or feelings of depression, shame, or anger that surface a month or two after the birth.

• Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, helplessness, or hopelessness that begin to disrupt your partner’s normal functioning.

• Unexplained episodes of crying

• Major appetite changes or a significant decrease in sex drive

• Inability to sleep when tired, or sleeping most of the time, even when the baby is awake, or to take pleasure

• Marked changes in appetite.

• Extreme concern and worry about the baby, or lack of interest in the baby and/or other members of the family.

• Worries that she’ll harm the baby or herself, or threats that she’ll do either one.

If your wife does develop postpartum depression, you have a major role to play in helping her cope with and overcome it.

• Remind her that the depression is not her fault, you love her, the baby loves her, she’s doing a great job, and that the two of you will get through this together. Also, do as much of the housework and childcare as you can so she won’t have to worry about not being able to get everything done herself.

• Encourage her to take breaks—regularly and frequently.

• Encourage her to talk with you about what she’s feeling and to see her doctor or a therapist.

• Take over enough of the nighttime baby duties so your partner can get at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep. This means that you’ll probably do a feeding or two, which is a great way to get in some extra dad-baby bonding.

• Get regular breaks to relieve your own stress. Yes, she’s relying on you to help her but if you’re falling apart yourself you can’t be an effective caregiver.

Postpartum blues and depression can be confusing, frustrating, and even frightening for your partner and you. But there is help. Your partner’s doctor or the hospital where your baby was born will have lists of local organizations that offer resources, support, and guidance for both of you.

Previously published on Mr. Dad

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