With the focus on supporting moms during and after pregnancy, a lot of attention and awareness is lost for the partners and fathers throughout this process.
As life-changing as having a child can be, the time period during pregnancy leading up to it can be just as stressful and impactful on soon-to-be parents.
This article aims to shed light on perinatal depression before having a child with partners/fathers. This sensitive and unchartered period can be a breeding ground for mood disorders and challenging symptoms to develop.
Definition of perinatal depression
According to Healthline, it is depression that begins from the period of conception to after pregnancy. This could be from 0 months to almost two years in some cases, proving even more of a reason to bring more attention to this condition.
The symptoms associated with perinatal depression can vary greatly and are listed below:
- Elevated irritability or anger
- Irregular change in sleep patterns
- Loss of identity or confidence in supporting your family
- Social isolation or withdrawal from family
- Lack of desire or interest in things
- Difficulty concentrating/brain fog
- Negative change in diet or appetite
- Extreme sadness or crying
- Feeling of guilt not being the one giving birth
- Resorting to alcohol or drugs more frequently
Prevalence of perinatal depression in partners
While studies may provide statistics, in my opinion, there are many silent sufferers out there who are too afraid or feel inadequate in coming forward regarding their feelings, symptoms, or even thoughts. Most studies have shown that more than 10% of partners experience perinatal depression.
The range that most of these statistics come from is during the first trimester of pregnancy up to the first year of the child’s life.
As stated earlier, this is almost a two-year gap in which symptoms of a mood disorder could arise, showcasing why we need to bring more awareness to partners and fathers with their mental health!
The focus on partners’ experiences during pregnancy
While the focus of this article is on partners and fathers, I emphasize that support should not be compromised on the mom as they are the foundation to bring new life into this amazing world.
However, just as much as a role that the mother plays, so too does the partner in supporting the mom, and newborn, and managing the household as well.
That being said, the lack of attention on partners and fathers during pregnancy is alarming. Not until recently have mental health screening tests started to include partners in their audience, but at a slow rate and is still a work in progress.
Impact on Partners during Pregnancy
Following are some of the areas where perinatal depression’s impact on the partners can be the highest during pregnancy.
Emotional challenges and struggles
Pregnancy is certainly an emotional time for the mother as her hormones are fluctuating all over the place. Being happy one minute and then crying the next out of the blue is very difficult to predict and get used to.
Partners who have a supportive role during pregnancy can go through emotional ups and downs as well, especially when witnessing and trying to comfort mom during her challenges.
Partners may feel like they are worthless and unable to support the mom and potentially their new child when they may fail and bettering the mom’s well-being.
They may also experience hormone changes as they begin to adapt to the reality of what life will be like having a newborn and trying to figure things out as they go.
Role adjustment and changes in relationships
New responsibilities and becoming a father or parent are amazing life-changing events that can bring some stressful emotions with them.
Becoming a parent for somebody you have never met before and have no idea what their likes or dislikes are can be a large pill for some people to swallow.
Understanding the importance of creating bonding time with your newborn and stepping up to help mom in any way possible will help alleviate the uncertainty about what to expect next.
Partners will potentially have to take on new chores at home to pick up in certain areas where the mom was responsible.
Preparing and anticipating these new adjustments is the most important step for pushing through these unchartered waters with as much confidence and sense of worthiness as you can develop.
Effect on bonding with the unborn baby
As odd as it may seem, bonding with your pregnant partner’s belly can have a massive positive impact on both you and the baby.
Singing, talking, and reading to your unborn baby will create an emotional connection that will foster love, protectiveness, and attachment.
Taking this action can create positive parenting behaviors especially when the baby is born and you have already established a relationship with them.
The baby will also be familiar with your voice and feel an attachment to you when brought into the world potentially with a team of unfamiliar doctor voices surrounding them. This creates an amazing feeling of comfort and security for the baby.
Physical and psychological health implications
A partner may experience physical and health changes through perinatal depression during the pregnancy period unbeknownst to them, hence the importance of educating oneself on these symptoms.
Some common physical implications include sleep disruption if the mom is having trouble sleeping as well. They may gain weight with the mom too if there has been a change in diet such as cravings by the mom. There is also a need for physical support in assisting the mom such as in and out of the car, bed, shower, etc.
The psychological implications could be adopting an emotional support mentality for the mom who is going through a lot of hormonal changes. They may also have increased anxiety about supporting the mom and being concerned with the baby especially if there have been health complications throughout the pregnancy.
Importance of recognizing and addressing perinatal depression in partners
As a partner who may be experiencing new emotions, feelings, thoughts, or mood shifts for example, it is important to have a heightened sense of self-awareness in identifying these changes and understanding them.
Looking out for increased irritability or anger, a sense of worthlessness, lack of confidence, loss of identity, and feelings of hopelessness are common signs that perinatal depression may be brewing.
Having the vulnerability to talk about this with your partner, family, or a medical professional such as a therapist, counsellor, or even a coach is where the support and help you need will start to come from.
Hiding from these new and overwhelming emotions will only make matters worse and could potentially lead to longer-lasting symptoms and a more challenging return to your former self.
There is an unfortunate societal image created around fathers and partners that they are the strong, resolute, and stoic person throughout the relationship that shows no signs of weakness and has hushed a lot of affected people out there suffering in silence.
It is sad to think that people may be considered weak or incapable of being a parent if they are struggling with a mood disorder such as perinatal depression.
This couldn’t be further from the truth as it takes an incredibly strong and willful person to step up and talk about their feelings and seek support in getting better to be the person they were meant to be for their family.
Coping Strategies for Partners
While seeking support is an integral part of working through your mood disorder and bringing back the confidence, love, and gratitude for your family that you are so capable of having, there are some other strategies for coping on your own.
As mentioned in many of my articles, self-awareness is so important in being connected to what you are going through in order to process and work through it effectively and efficiently. This can be accomplished through different practices and techniques.
Taking at least 5 minutes, which is sometimes all you may need, a day to write down what you are going through, things that are challenging you, or questions you may need to write out answers to in order to process better are great ways of developing a strong connection with your inner being.
You may struggle at first feeling comfortable with getting into a flow of journaling, but when you are consistent at it I have found it to be a very powerful way of understanding and working through challenging times.
Again, finding 5 minutes to start out with a day and a quiet space is all you need to help bring more presence and clarity to your life. There are different ways to meditate that are very useful depending on what you are looking for or going through at the given time.
Affirmation meditation is fantastic at rebuilding your confidence and worthiness in being able to be the partner you were meant to be.
Body scan meditation is a great way to find out where your stress/anxiety/tension is building up and work through releasing it.
Mindfulness meditation is another great practice for allowing thoughts and feelings to flow through you like a river while you sit back and witness from almost a 3rd person perspective.
Breathwork has been one of my most useful tools in lowering my stress level and bringing things back to the centre when I feel like I’m losing control. This can also take just a couple of minutes whenever you feel like you’re in need of grounding yourself.
Start by taking 6 deep breaths with longer exhales than inhales and just focusing on your breath the entire time.
The Role of Healthcare Providers
Throughout the course of pregnancy and even post-birth, the partner is typically not addressed or thought of when it comes to supporting or even screening for mood disorders.
This doesn’t foster a “safe space” for partners to come forth and talk about their emotions especially if they are experiencing overwhelming ones.
While a lot of screening is concentrated on the mother, there is still a large vacancy for more advocacy and a push for screening partners as well throughout and after pregnancy.
Having some type of resources and education on mood disorders such as perinatal depression is a huge step in allowing partners to not feel alone and that other people have gone through and are going through similar symptoms as well.
I personally do not recall any handouts or videos or material on what type of mood disorders, if any, affect fathers/partners. Not until I witnessed an incredibly traumatic birth did I start to experience those symptoms and become more educated on what was happening.
There needs to be a bridge to this gap and that is one of my missions to help bring awareness to the fact that mood disorders can affect partners and fathers and we need to be there for them with support and guidance!
Nurturing the Relationship during Perinatal Depression
Coming to terms with your symptoms of perinatal depression through being vulnerable with your partner is the most important and influential step in starting the support and recovery process.
Not only will your vulnerability alleviate the overwhelming feelings you may be experiencing, but it will strengthen the bond between you and your partner. Your partner should accept your feelings and listen to them from a non-judgemental perspective to help you work through them.
Your partner may also be experiencing similar pains and may not have felt comfortable talking about it, but now that you have you both can share your experiences creating a strong will powered team to overcome adversities.
Having an open honest line of communication with your partner will not only strengthen your relationship now but will change your future for the better after you have overcome your mood disorder. A life of honesty in a relationship in my opinion can only do amazing things and weather any storm that comes its way.
As more and more content is created around the field of mental health in partners and fathers, I believe that this awareness can create a movement to more attention and support for people affected by postpartum mood disorders.
The more people know, become aware, and educate themselves on symptoms and support the better chance we have at establishing a safe space for the silent sufferers to be comfortable coming out in.
As we have witnessed many strong movements in the past decade with a shift in ideology towards them, I am encouraged that we can create one towards mental health for partners and fathers.
I am on a mission to provide support, raise awareness, and bridge the gap in mental health with partners and fathers. If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms mentioned in this article, please talk to your partner about it, find a therapist or counsellor, or take a journey with me to a compelling future and schedule a 30 minute connection call to see how I can be of help.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and the more that I can write articles about this, along with other professionals, the more we can shed light on this sheltered issue.
It’s okay to feel the way you do, but it’s not okay to keep going about life expecting things to change on their own.
Give it a shot and take your next step with me while I navigate you through a program to bring back confidence, love, and gratitude for your family to be the parent you know you were meant to be!
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