Post Partum Depression: Information for husbands and families

by Karen Kleiman

Understanding Postpartum Depression

  • Postpartum depression (PPD) affect 20% of all postpartum women.
  • PPD is a medical condition that can be treated successfully.
  • PPD is a clinical depression that can occur any time immediately after birth up to a year postpartum.
  • If your wife has been diagnosed with PPD, it's very important for you to be informed and part of the treatment.
  • PPD can strike without warning -- in women with no history of depression or women who have had it before. It can happen to women who are highly successful in their careers or women who stay home with their children. It can strike women in stable marriages and conflictual marriages, as well as single women, and adoptive mothers. It can happen to women who love their baby more than anything in the world. It can happen after the first baby, or after the fourth.
  • It can happen to women who swore it would never happen to them.
  • It is not completely understood why PPD affects some women and not others -- why women who have many risk factors may no experience it, and others who have no risk factors may end up with a full blown episode.
  • Women are twice as likely to experience depression than men.
  • Women are most at risk to experience emotional illness following the birth of a baby than at any other time.
  • PPD is a real illness.
  • She is not making this up.
  • This did not happen because she's a bad mother, or doesn't love her baby enough.
  • It did not happen because she's having negative thoughts about herself or about you or about your baby.
  • It did not happen because she is weak and not working hard enough to get better.
  • She cannot "snap out of it."
  • This is not fair. This is not what you expected. But if your wife has been diagnosed with PPD, it will take a while for her to recover. Recovery may take weeks to months.
  • She will get better. She will return to her "normal" self. She will begin to experience pleasure again. This will not happen overnight.
  • The more supportive you are of her treatment, the smoother her recovery will be.
  • PPD is nobody's fault. It is not your wife's fault. It is not your fault.
  • Try to reassure your wife that there is nothing she has done to make this happen.
  • Often, when we are struck by something we do not understand, we try to cast blame on someone or something. This will be counterproductive.
  • Remember that we do not know exactly why this happened. What we do know is what to do to maximize the healing process.
  • Do not spend excessive energy trying to figure out what went wrong or why this happened. Your search for reason will frustrate you and it will keep your wife spinning along side of you. Save your energy for navigating through this unfamiliar territory.

What to say

Her moods and emotional vulnerability will get in the way of good communication for now. Here's what you're up against:

-If you tell her you love her, she won't believe you.

-If you tell her she's a good mother, she'll think you're just saying that to make her feel better.

-If you tell her she's beautiful, she'll assume you're lying.

-If you tell her not to worry about anything, she'll think you have no idea how bad she feels.

-If you tell her you'll come home early to help her, she'll feel guilty.

-If you tell her you have to work late, she'll think you don't care.

But you can: