Approximately 20 percent of all postpartum women experience a perinatal mood disorder such as postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety. These are medical conditions which can be successfully treated. Knowing the risk factors and understanding the signs and symptoms are important for a spouse in order to get his wife the appropriate care and help.

Any new mom can develop a perinatal mood disorder; however, there are some risk factors to be aware of:

  • Personal or family history of depression or anxiety
  • History of severe PMS or PMDD
  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Fertility treatments
  • Miscarriage
  • Traumatic or stressful pregnancy or birthing experience
  • Abrupt discontinuation of breastfeeding
  • Substance abuse

Many new mothers have some bad days or experience the “baby blues,” but PPD and anxiety are not just bad days. Women with PPD or anxiety have many of the below symptoms most of the time, for a period of at least two weeks or longer:

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

  • Overwhelmed
  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Sadness beyond the typical “baby blues”
  • Not showing the happiness or connection that one would expect; lack of bonding with the baby
  • No appetite, or eating all the “wrong” things
  • Can’t sleep, even when baby is sleeping
  • Lack of concentration and focus

Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms

  • Can’t stop, can’t settle down, and can’t relax
  • Excessive worries and fears
  • Backaches, headaches, shakiness, panic attacks, stomachaches, or nausea
  • No appetite, or eating all the “wrong” things
  • Can’t sleep, even when baby is sleeping

If your wife is experiencing the symptoms of PPD or anxiety as listed above, please seek treatment. PPD and anxiety are temporary and very treatable with professional help. Medication, therapy, and support groups are all appropriate and extremely helpful forms of treatment.

A perinatal mood disorder also can occur without warning and without any of the above risk factors. It can happen to stay-at-home moms, working moms, any moms. It occurs in women with stable and happy marriages and in women in conflicted marriages or with single women, and even adoptive mothers. It can happen to women who love their baby more than anything in the world. Postpartum depression and anxiety have nothing to do with loving one’s baby. It can happen after the birth of a first baby, or after the birth of the eighth baby. It is not completely understood why it affects some women and not others; why women who have many risk factors may not experience it, and others who have no risk factors at all may end up with a full-blown episode.

We do not know exactly why this happens, but what we do know is how to maximize the healing process. Don’t spend all your energy trying to figure out what went wrong or why this happened to you. Your search for reason will only frustrate you and your wife. Here are some things you can do:

  • Find a support group for your wife; is a great resource.
  • Find a doctor who is trained to deal with perinatal mood disorders.
  • Attend doctor’s appointments with your wife.
  • Find a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression and anxiety.
  • Make sure your wife continues treatment even when she starts to feel better.

Postpartum depression and anxiety are real illnesses. You wife is not making this up; she can’t just “snap out of it.” If your wife has been diagnosed with a perinatal mood disorder, it’s very important for you to be informed and to be part of her treatment. The more supportive you are of her treatment, the smoother her recovery will be.

It will take a while for her to recover; it will probably be several months. Try to reassure your wife that there is nothing she has done to make this happen and remind her it is not her fault. Also remember it is not your fault.