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What recommendations would you make to an expectant father or partner that are helpful in navigating postpartum depression?

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It's important to first note that clinical postpartum depression can be caused by drastically shifting hormonal levels and other physical changes following birth. To this end, there is little that can actively prevent postpartum depression as a woman's body recovers from the feat of growing life for nine months and then from the physical challenges involved in delivering a baby. If a woman or her partner suspects that she may have postpartum depression or even postpartum psychosis, it's important to seek medical intervention.

That said, even mothers who are not clinically diagnosed with depression often struggle in the weeks and months following birth, and there are some things that partners can do to help alleviate feelings of sadness or anxiety during this time.

It is imperative that new mothers be given ample opportunity to rest. New mothers who are physically recovering from childbirth, particularly those who have experienced challenging deliveries, may find themselves unable to meet the demands of an infant who wants to nurse or feed every two hours. Without some help, these mothers can quickly become so sleep deprived that depression is nearly certain. Partners can assist with feedings, when possible, to help new mothers gain a few extra hours of uninterrupted sleep. They can also take the baby out of the house for walks to give the new mother some quiet space.

New mothers who are nursing may have little time for anything else, especially those who are nursing babies with feeding challenges. Partners can help by cooking meals, cleaning bottles and other feeding supplies, running errands, and taking care of laundry. It's important to recognize the mother's needs and to help with specific tasks. General comments like "Let me know if I can do anything" don't usually decrease a new mother's stress levels. Surprise the new mother with small tokens of appreciation that will remind her of other things she loves: dinner from a favorite restaurant (even take-out), a gift certificate to get a pedicure, a bouquet of beautiful flowers, or a night out with her friends.

It's also important to validate the new mother's feelings and experiences. Be an encourager, especially if she feels inadequate. Remind her of all she is doing well and compliment her strength to deliver your child and provide daily care for your infant. Praise her stamina and willingness to constantly learn new things to help your new baby flourish. Let this new mother know that she is loved and that she is doing a great job in her new role.

Most importantly, be actively engaged with the new mother's needs. Be mindful to ask how she is feeling and really listen for her answers. Allow her to share her frustrations as well as her joys, and make sure that she feels that she can come to you without judgment. Maintaining an ongoing and open dialogue about her experience may help prevent growing feelings of frustration that could lead to depression.

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