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Helping your partner understand postnatal depression

Postnatal depression (PND) is a type of depression that some women (and some men) experience after having a baby. It can affect around 10 to 15% of women [1] and it tends to occur within the first twelve months after birth. Like other types of depression, it is often misunderstood.

If your partner doesn’t understand or underestimates the effects of PND, they might not be able to empathise with you and support you through it. This can cause a conflict in the relationship.

Why is this happening?

Your partner's misunderstanding or ignorance might be frustrating, but it may just be a lack of knowledge. As a nation, we’re not very good at differentiating between having a low mood, and being depressed.

Your partner might assume that, if you have PND, you’ll be sad all the time and cry a lot. So, if your PND manifests itself in other ways, such as sleeping a lot, feeling numb, or withdrawing, it may not be recognised for what it is.

Your partner may also assume that, if you didn’t get PND in the first few months, then you can’t be experiencing it now. However, PND can happen any time within the first year after giving birth.

How can I help?

Firstly, it might be helpful for your partner to know and recognise PND symptoms, some of which may include:

  • Low mood.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Crying spells.
  • Insomnia.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety.
  • Poor concentration [1] [2].

PND is a real illness, and anyone suffering from it needs professional help. So it’s important your partner not only understands what PND is, but is willing to learn how it affects you.

Try to open the conversation more broadly. Rather than trying to explain PND, try simply asking your partner for support. Different people have different ideas what kind of behaviour is supportive, so your partner may just have a different perspective to you on the subject of PND or depression in general.

Relationships between couples following the birth of their child can be fraught, and depression is more likely to develop in both mothers and fathers in the first year of birth [3].

If you feel that your partner is not really paying attention or seems to lack interest, try to remember that people's perspectives are often formed through other people’s attitudes to depression – usually someone quite influential like their own parents. Stick with it, and ask for your partner's undivided attention to explore the issue.

Encouraging your partner to speak to a medical professional or a health visitor could be helpful, as they are equipped to explain PND from a psychological and biological standpoint. They may also be able to provide further support resources for you both.


[1] Yiong Wee, K., Skouteris, H., Pier, C., Richardson, B. and Milgrom, J. (2011) Correlates of Ante- and Postnatal Depression in Fathers: A Systematic Review. Journal of Affective Disorders 130(3), 358–77.
[2] Andrews-Fike, C. (1999). A review of postpartum depression. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 1(1), 9.
[3] (Davé, Petersen, Sherr, & Nazareth, 2010).” (p.29)

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