Postpartum Depression and Relationships: Stress After Baby Is Born

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When Tina Merritt gave birth to her son Graham six years ago, she expected what all new mothers expect: a joyous experience getting to know her baby. Instead, she found that she was terrified of her own child.

“I came home and I cried for hours straight. I was afraid that somebody would leave me alone with this baby that I had no clue how to take care of,” she recalls.

Stricken with the fear that she would be an incompetent mother, Merritt went back to work when Graham was 6 weeks old, ceding most of the baby’s care to her husband and the grandparents.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to take care of him — I just thought they were better at it,” she says. “I felt like I couldn’t do it right. My husband knew something was wrong, and he picked up the pieces. He just thought, OK, I need to step up to the plate and be a responsible husband.”

Merritt, who now lives in southern California, wouldn’t learn the truth until her son was more than 2 years old: she was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). Between 10% and 20% of women who have recently given birth experience PPD, but like Merritt, more than half of them go undiagnosed.

Recognizing Postpartum Depression

hungry, or you can’t stop eating. You sleep all the time, or you can’t Medication. Many women who experience perinatal mood disorders, like Tina Merritt, find significant relief from antidepressant medication. Women who want to breastfeed should talk with their doctor about the best antidepressants for their situation.

  • Counseling and group therapy. Counselors can help you with specific techniques for dealing with your particular symptoms, such as relaxation techniques for women who often feel anxious, and “thought-stopping” for obsessive negative thoughts.
  • Establishing a support system. Friends help, especially other new mothers who have empathy for what you’re going through.
  • Lifestyle interventions. Improving nutrition and getting sufficient can lessen symptoms.
  • And, couples must remember to care for one another while in treatment for postpartum depression.

    “Stress so easily turns into ‘You’re not taking care of me, so the hell with you.’ This is not going to get you what you need,” Kleiman says. “Tend to your relationship. Embrace it. Take care of each other. One of the best ways to meet your own needs is to take care of your partner’s needs. It makes them feel better, and it enables them to do a better job taking care of you.”