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As a marriage and family therapist I often see couples struggling with the adjustment into parenthood. Bringing home a baby is one of life’s many wonderful moments full of joy and love. Yet, in the weeks after the baby is home couples find themselves wondering if this is their new reality. It is common that couples struggle in their relationship when a new baby comes into the family. The roles and expectations seem to shift so quickly you are left confused in the aftermath of the storm. In addition to adjusting to becoming parents another challenge is often added to the circumstances. Perinatal mood disorders are a common experience for many parents. In fact, both women AND men can experience perinatal mood disorders. According to Postpartum Support International, one in ten dads will experience postpartum depression. The American Psychological Association (2018) found that one out of seven pregnant women, and one out of five postpartum women will develop either depression or anxiety disorder. 

What are perinatal mood disorders? Perinatal mood disorders refer to a range of emotional health conditions that can affect parents during pregnancy and the postpartum period. These conditions include postpartum depression, anxiety, and more severe forms like postpartum psychosis. It’s crucial to recognize that perinatal mood disorders are common and treatable. It is important to distinguish that the baby blues are NOT a perinatal mood disorder. Baby blues are common feelings of sadness and crying within the first two weeks after giving birth. If symptoms and feelings continue after the two-week mark then you are experiencing a perinatal mood disorder. 

Who is at risk for experiencing a perinatal mood disorder? The short answer is any parent. However, research suggests that individuals with a lower socioeconomic background and individuals with a history of mental health issues (such as anxiety and depression) have an increased risk of developing a perinatal mood disorder. 

The most crucial part of understanding a perinatal mood disorder is recognizing the signs and symptoms. Especially, for the partner who might not be experiencing the symptoms so they can provide non-judgmental support and, if needed, access to professional help. 

Recognizing the signs: 

  1. Persistent sadness or Anxiety: Feeling persistently sad, anxious, or overwhelmed, even when things are going well, could be a sign of a perinatal mood disorder. 
  2. Changes in sleep and appetite: Disruptions in sleep patterns, either too much or too little, and changes in appetite can be indicative of a mood disorder. 
  3. Loss of Interest or Pleasure: A noticeable loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed may signal a perinatal mood disorder. 
  4. Difficulty Bonding with the Baby: Struggling to form a connection with the baby or feeling detached is a common experience in mood disorders. 

Additionally, the well-being of the mom is important to the well-being of the family. When the mom is not healthy the family cannot thrive. Mental well-being is a shared experience. The rollercoaster of emotions, from elation to moments of stress and anxiety, can significantly shape not only a mother’s experiences but also the marriage itself. 

Challenges to the Marriage

  1. Communication Challenges: Perinatal mental health struggles can introduce communication barriers within a marriage. Partners may find it challenging to express their needs, fears, and expectations. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is vital for maintaining open lines of communication. 
  2. Changes in Roles: The transition to parenthood often involves a renegotiation of roles within the marriage. Mothers may grapple with new responsibilities, and fathers may navigate changes in their roles as well. Understanding and supporting each other in these adjustments is crucial. 
  3. Intimacy and Connection: The physical and emotional demands of motherhood can impact intimacy within the marriage. Couples need to actively work towards maintaining a connection, both emotionally and physically, fostering a sense of closeness and understanding. 
  4. Shared Support Systems: Establishing a strong support system is essential for both partners. This includes seeking help from family, friends, and, when necessary, professional support. Sharing the journey of parenthood as a team strengthens the marriage. 

Navigating Challenges Together

  1. Open Communication: Creating a safe space for open and honest communication is fundamental. Think of this as the foundation of your home. It needs to be sturdy to maintain the weight of the rest of the home. Added life stressors, health issues, childcare, etc. create weight on the foundation. Encourage each other to express emotions, fears, and needs without judgement. Therapeutic support can provide a structured environment for these conversations. 
  2. Mutual Understanding: Take the time to understand each other’s perspectives and experiences. Empathy goes a long way in fostering a deeper connection. Acknowledge challenges and celebrate the victories, no matter how small. 
  3. Seeking Professional Support: If perinatal mental health challenges persist, seeking professional help is a proactive step. Marriage and family therapy can provide strategies to navigate the impact on the marriage, fostering resilience and mutual support. 

Perinatal mental health is not only an individual journey but a shared experience within the context of marriage. By recognizing the influence of maternal mental well-being, couples can proactively work together to navigate challenges, strengthen their connection, and build a resilient foundation for their family. The journey of parenthood is a joint venture, and nurturing each other’s mental health ensures that the marriage remains a source of support, understanding, and love. Remember, you are NOT alone, and help is available to guide you through this transformation time. 

 

I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I work with individuals and couples on relationship issues. Whether it be relationships with their spouses, family members, or themselves I help my clients achieve healthy relationships in their lives. I have training in the Gottman Method for couples therapy and received training from Postpartum Support International on the complexities of maternal mental health. To schedule a complimentary consultation or book a session with me please email me at rachael@coralspringscounselingcenter.com

 

Position Statement Screening_and_Treatment_of_Mood_and_Anxiety_Disorders_During_Pregnancy_and_Postpartum_2019.pdf (psychnews.org)

 

Postpartum Support International – PSI