For Partners: Providing Support for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Partners, this post is for you.

You have probably heard over and over again how lovely pregnancy and birth can be. You may have read books, taken childbirth classes, and talked with your partner about ways to support her and be helpful during the process. You may have cut the umbilical cord and stood over your partner’s shoulder as you admired your little one for the first time.

Or, you may have experienced something completely different. Things didn’t go the way you had expected. You planned a home birth but there was an emergency and you and your partner had to be transferred to the hospital. Labor wasn’t progressing and a pitocin drip had to be started, then contractions became extremely painful. It was probably really hard to see your partner in so much pain. Maybe she had to have an epidural next to cope with contractions, and it took a long time for the anesthesiologist to come to your room. Maybe your provider let you know there would need to be an emergency cesarean, and you were whisked to the operating room without any time to process what was happening. Your baby may have gone to the NICU. You may have come home from the hospital exhausted and sad and grieving the immense loss of what you had both been planning.

Birth experiences are only one piece of the pie when it comes to looking at perinatal mood and anxiety disorders; someone can be depressed or anxious even if their birth was exactly how they’d planned. However, if a person has a birth during which she feels out of control, afraid for her life or the life of her baby, or does not feel like her opinion is taken seriously or heard by hospital staff or care providers, she is more at risk for mood complications in the postpartum period.

Here are some things you can do if you feel your partner is at risk of developing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, or you suspect she has one already:

1. Do practical things to support your partner. Assist with nighttime feedings if possible (feeding your baby with a bottle of pumped breastmilk or formula, or waking when the baby cries and bringing baby to your partner so they can nurse). Cook meals and make snacks that are easily accessible.
2. Encourage your partner to sleep as much as possible. Do whatever you can to make this happen.
3. If you partner begins to engage in arguments with you, understand they are likely coming from a place of frustration, exhaustion, and anger. Now is probably not a good time to talk about it.
4. Read The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for Living with Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman. Contrary to the title, this book is not just for husbands—any partner or support person would benefit from the information.
5. Obtain social support in the form of a doula. Postpartum doulas are wonderful resources and can help you screen for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders as well as help with any tasks related to the family such as baby laundry, cooking meals, light tidying around the house, and helping your partner feel as comfortable as possible.
6. Connect to a therapist who specializes in treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, birth trauma, and adjustment to parenthood. This person will be able to support both you and your partner and help you find your way.

Thank you for being there for your partner. This is really hard, but I can tell you it’s going to get better. Your support is critical, and your mental health is important, too. If you have questions or are wondering if it may be helpful to seek counseling for your partner or yourself, please contact me. I am happy to help you find the right supports for your family.

This blog was originally posted for Porch Light Counseling.