A Dad's Guide to postpartum support
Updated: Feb 22
Congratulations, Dad! You are a new father, and are likely looking forward to sharing your life with your new daughter or son. You have expectations and ideas about what your child will be like and how you will come even closer together as a family. Everything is going great…but wait. Is it? Your partner or wife doesn’t seem to be doing so well. She’s the one who did most of the work, sure, by carrying the baby throughout her pregnancy and then giving birth. But shouldn’t she be back to “normal” by now? She isn’t pregnant anymore, you have the baby you’ve always wanted (or learned to want), but she’s still struggling. What is going on here?
The Postpartum Recovery Period
From the moment your partner/wife has the baby up until a year (or more) afterwards is considered the postpartum period. So many things happen and change for your partner or wife during the postpartum period. There’s the physical recovery from having a baby, which takes at least 6 weeks and usually up to 3 or more months afterwards. Then there’s the emotional adjustment, for both the mother and the father, of having a baby and bringing a new child into your life and family. On top of that, about 20% of women experience some form of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety within the first year after having a baby, and this is going to impact your family unit also. Whew! There is a lot to handle, and recover from, during the postpartum period!
Get Your Own Support
The first thing that I recommend that new fathers do, is to get your own support. If you’re experiencing stress, worry, anxiety, or even depression following the birth of your child, it’s going to be even more difficult for you to support your partner or wife in the way that she needs it. You have likely been socialized to not seek out extra support or help, and to do so would consider yourself as “weak”. However, I cannot stress this enough, if you’re not taking care of yourself and getting your own needs met, you’re not going to be able to support others. Getting your own support can look like many different things:
Talk regularly to a trusted friend or family member about how you’re doing, what you’re feeling, and the struggles you and/or your partner is experiencing
Make time to connect with your partner, to spend quality time together doing things you enjoy
Bond with your child by holding and caring for the baby
Join a support group for men
Seek out counseling support with a trained therapist
Taking care of yourself, without being selfish about it, will allow you more time and emotional bandwidth to take care of your partner and new baby.
Educate Yourself about Postpartum Depression
As mentioned above, about 1 in 5 women experience some form of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. It is important for you to know some symptoms or warning signs of postpartum concerns so that you can identify if your partner or wife is experiencing this. Check out our blog How to Recognize Postpartum Depression for more information about this. Knowing your wife or partner and how she was prior to getting pregnant compared to how she is now will also be helpful. Stark differences in how she is thinking and acting can be signs that some postpartum issues are going on. One book that is excellent for postpartum dads is: The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions For Living with Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman.
When to Be Concerned
Life changes after you have a baby. Everything is different. Sleep, or lack thereof, can cause a whole host of other issues. Making sure your partner and yourself are getting enough sleep, in whatever intervals is possible, is key. When your partner is having trouble sleeping even when the baby is asleep or otherwise cared for, this can turn into something to be concerned about. If your partner is not eating enough, or is crying excessively (meaning, daily for a long period of time each day), or has intense anxiety or sadness, these are all things to be concerned about. Odd behaviors that you notice such as obsessive thoughts or compulsive actions (check out our blog on Postpartum OCD) that are impacting your wife’s daily routine or functioning, are definitely cause for concern.
What to Do When to Get Help
If you are noticing some concerning signs or behaviors with your partner, it’s time for you to take action. Talk to your partner first, let her know what you’re noticing and ask what she is experiencing. Ask if this seems different to her, and why she is thinking or acting this way. Patience and understanding from you will go a long way with your partner. Together, come up with a plan to get your wife extra support. Talking to a counselor who is trained in postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety is a great place to start. So is consulting with a trusted doctor or your wife’s OB/GYN or midwife. Reading up about postpartum concerns from trusted sources, or joining a support for postpartum parents or moms are other great options.
Your role as a new father and primary support system for your wife or partner during the postpartum period cannot be underestimated. The support, help and understanding you’re able to provide your partner or wife can greatly impact how she recovers from having a baby. You now know the steps to take for postpartum support, all you need to do is get started!
How We Can Help
If you or your partner are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:
Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation
Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxing life
Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, guest blogger, and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.