How to support her through the baby blues

Suppporting a Partner with Post Natal Depression

I remember Day 3 after the delivery of our first-born like it was yesterday. I’d arrived at the hospital to find Sarah with tears streaming down her face. I rushed over to give her a hug, thinking something terrible had happened, but when I asked what was wrong, she couldn’t tell me.

A nurse came in and explained it was the Baby Blues, often referred to as the Day 3 Blues, and was completely normal. The emotional floodgates had opened as a result of Sarah’s hormones returning to their pre-pregnancy state, combined with the body’s shock of childbirth, as well as the natural thought process of a new mother, questioning whether she was going to be any good at her sudden new responsibility.

In most cases, she advised, the Baby Blues naturally subside within a few days with no more treatment than the support of a loving partner. And lucky for us they did. However, it still pained me to see Sarah like that.

So when we had our second, Jono, was born, my eyes were squarely focused on Day 3.

I was determined to do what I could to support her, so I did what any 21st Century man in search of answers does: I Googled it.

I began with, “what partners can do for Baby Blues”, but found very little in the way of practical advice for fathers and partners. Almost everything I found was written by women, for women.

I abandoned the Guru that was Google and asked myself two simple questions: what were the thoughts and feelings making Sarah feel crappy and what could I do to help curb them?

  • I bought three brightly coloured frames and put pictures of our family in them, to help reassure her when she might have felt alone at the hospital.
  • I bought her a few “surprises”; snacks (healthy) that I knew she liked, to give her that little pick-me-up that hospital food couldn’t.
  • I played the role of gatekeeper, politely advising family and friends when it was appropriate or not for them to visit, to take the pressure of her doing it herself, or having to see people when she was already feeling crappy.

Later, I resolved to compile a simple, easy-to-follow guide to help other fathers or partners who might find themselves in the situation I did, where not even the Fount of Knowledge that is Google could assist me.

So, here we are.

I initially intended to give you the “X Practical Tips for Fathers Around Baby Blues”, but I realised that the actions I took might be totally irrelevant to the next person. So instead, I turned to Keith Read, Father Inclusive Practice Educator for DadsWA at Ngala, for some expert tips and advice.

Here’s what Keith had to say.

1. The Baby Blues are completely normal

“A lot of guys think to themselves, ‘What can I practically do to stop this? Nothing will stop it and it isn’t something to be stopped. In most cases, it will run its course and the mother’s emotions, feelings, moods, behaviours and though processes will return to pre-pregnancy state.

The normalisation of this process is really important and that’s what we tell parents when we speak to them. The majority of couples will experience Baby Blues of some sort.”

The signs of Baby Blues in a mother, as Beyond Blue describes, can include becoming teary, irritable, overly sensitive in interactions with others and moody. All of these signs, in the majority of cases, will clear up within a few days without any treatment other than support and understanding.

2. Don’t approach Baby Blues as something to be fixed

“Men have a natural desire to fix things and, when I work with dads, they’re usually wanting Steps A, B, C and D to sort things out. Sometimes, that’s useful, but other times it’s counterproductive and this is one of those times where it’s a fine balancing act.

The word a lot of mothers use around the Baby Blues is ‘grief’; it feels like they’re grieving, possibly for their previous carefree lifestyle. If someone is grieving for the loss of something, you don’t try and fix it; you seek to understand and support them. Quite often, your partner won’t even know what she wants. A lot of the mums I’ve spoken to have said they just want their partner to show that they’re trying to understand what they’re going through.”

3. Removing responsibility will not remove the Baby Blues

“Mothers may be feeling the way they’re feeling in realisation of the responsibility they now have for a newborn baby. That responsibility may feel overwhelming, particularly in the first few days.

The natural reaction for some partners is to attempt to remove what they assume is the cause – the baby. So, they think, ‘I’ll deal with the baby completely and mum will be fine’.

As well as the hormonal changes, a question likely rushing through the mother’s head is, ‘Am I going to be a decent mother?’ and that’s why we always say an important tip for new dads is to provide affirmations for the mother that they will be – and are – fantastic.

When partners and dads try to take away that responsibility, even though they think they’re doing the right thing, it can send a message that they don’t trust the mother, or don’t think the mother is capable, which may feed the overwhelming feelings and thoughts.

It is important for fathers and partners to play a significant role in raising a child, especially a newborn, but you both need the support of each other. It’s about sharing the responsibility (and the joy), not trying to do it all yourself.”

4. Avoid an influx of visitors and play the role of gatekeeper

“This is a recommendation of ours, regardless of how mum is travelling; whether she is experiencing the Baby Blues, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling perfectly happy.

It’s a really specific role that dads and partners can play; monitoring who’s visiting and who’s not, in consultation with the mother. It’s something concrete that the blokes can do, to act as the warden and the supervisor of sorts.

Mums tend to feel judged in whatever they do and that’s one of the big issues they face. It’s changing a bit for blokes, but we’ve generally always been given a free pass. I remember taking my daughter to school and if I’d tried to do the ponytails and they were no good, I’d still get the comments of, ‘Oh, good on you, dad, for trying’. Mums generally don’t get that.

In the days after giving birth, when a mother is thinking, ‘God, what’s happened to my body?’, and when she’s unsure about what she’s doing, the last thing she may want is to have someone with three kids roll in, or a family member.

But remember to discuss this with her rather than making the decision on your own.”

5. Don’t forget about you: look after yourself too

“Dads get the Baby Blues, too. That’s a fact. The most recent research shows dads also develop postnatal depression, anxiety and stress at rates far higher than we previously thought. Beyond Blue found up to 10 per cent of dads might experience postnatal depression.

Men have a tendency to try and suck it up and get on with things, particularly around postnatal depression, because the awareness just isn’t there of it being a condition also experienced by men. Beyond Blue talks about ‘dadstress’ – and it’s about anxiety, stress and depressive episodes.

The evidence suggests postnatal depression in men is experienced differently than in women, so it’s harder to identify, plus we all know about men’s help-seeking behaviours. Generally women are more likely to talk to friends, family or seek support, whereas men are more likely to try and ‘tough it out’, so it has the potential to go undetected and continue to be an issue for a lot longer than it needs to be.

Dads, you have an important role to play in the development of your child and he/she needs you to be travelling as well as possible. If you are struggling a bit, it is in your child’s best interest that you reach out for support from others. Take opportunities to talk with other dads about parenting and seek out new information and resources on how to be the best dad you can.

Workshops and programs offered specifically for dads are an ideal opportunity to do this.”

6. If things get worse, reach out

“Whether it’s you or mum, if things become unmanageable, don’t ignore it or try and sort things out yourselves. Reach out to a mate or family member, or seek professional support. It’s important for the welfare of the baby that both parents are engaged and interacting with them. You both need to be as healthy and happy as possible for your little one. If that’s best achieved through seeking external support, then please do it for the sake of the child”

Ngala is a not-for-profit organisation which provides a range of early childhood and parenting services. The organisation also provides tailored support for fathers, including information on what to expect around the birth of a new baby. Visit the For Dads resource of the Ngala website for more information.

If you think you or someone you know is suffering from depression and you would like to seek support, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), or the Ngala Helpline (9368 9368/country access: 1800 111 546).

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