Postpartum Depression: Effects on Relationships (3)

In this blog, we continue with looking at how postpartum depression affects the mother, her partner and family and friends as discussed in Postpartum Depression: Effects on Relationships (1) and (2).

Antidepressant medication may or may not be required, depending on medical advice. Whether medication is indication or not, there will be periods where the new mother is well and functioning, and other times when the old symptoms return. This is normal. As previously discussed, household help will be required so that the mother can turn her limited resources towards the baby.

She will also need time out from her new baby, time to be with friends and enjoy simple pleasures such as going out for a cup of coffee. It is important to remember that the behaviors that the new mother may be exhibiting which may look like indifference to the baby, irritability at the people around her, extreme sadness, and lack of interest, are symptoms of the illness and not a reflection of her true thoughts and feelings. A woman in such a situation may be unable to even talk about how she feels, so it is important that she receives reassurance that people are there for her and ready to listen when she needs support.

She may also find it difficult to make even the simplest of decisions, and needs a peaceful environment and a low-stress lifestyle to facilitate recovery. As the depression slowly lifts, she will still need assistance to help her complete tasks and help with the baby. As time passes and recovery approaches, she will be able to cope with more and more of her daily activities unaided. In the meantime, energy levels are low, and tasks that she once carried out with ease may need to be finished by a helpful friend or family member.

Often the marital relationship is strained during this time, particularly if the partner does not understand postpartum depression. It is best if he can go along with his partner so that they both familiarize themselves with the condition and neither have unrealistic expectations of the length of time required for recovery. The helpful support of a loving husband is crucial at this time.

Many women suffering postpartum depression feel angry at their partners, often for reasons that they can’t even articulate. Withdrawal from the relationship and loss of libido are both common side effects. The effect of postpartum depression on the marriage will be discussed in a later blog.

It is unhelpful to tell a woman suffering from postpartum depression to “snap out of it.” One of my clients approached her doctor as she was exhausted, her milk supply was inadequate due to the effects of the depression, and her baby was constantly crying. This cycle of exhaustion, a hungry baby, lack of milk, and inability to sleep set up a vicious circle which led her in desperation to the local doctor. Instead of recognizing the classic symptoms of postpartum depression, he told her to “go home and feed your baby”. If you encounter such an unenlightened response, try phoning health support networks in your local area.

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