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After Baby is Born: Postpartum Depression and Relationships

Between 10% and 20% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.

Overwhelming Anxiety and Stress in a Relationship continued...

The crippling, overwhelming anxiety made it difficult for Merritt to become close to her baby, something she says she still feels guilty about.

The mother-baby relationship isn’t the only relationship affected by perinatal mood disorders. Merritt and her husband were lucky -- their marriage survived the strain of her withdrawal, until an emergency brought them into counseling when Graham was 2 1/2. But many couples don’t survive a bout with perinatal mood disorders.

“There’s a very high rate of divorce in the first year after having a baby,” says Birdie Gunyon Meyer, RN, coordinator of the Perinatal Mood Disorders Program at Clarian Health in Indianapolis, Ind., and the president of Postpartum Support International.

“Even when there is no mood disorder, having a baby is very stressful on a relationship. Then, if she gets postpartum depression and anxiety, it’s that much worse,” Gunyon tells WebMD. “Men say things like, ‘I was disappointed. I was doing my part and she wasn’t pulling her weight. She was very depressed and anxious, and I had to take care of a new baby and my wife.’”

Postpartum Depression Is a Family Illness

Men can also get postpartum depression, Meyer says, noting that an estimated 10% of new fathers experience the condition.

PPD is a family illness, says Karen Kleiman, MSW, LSW, director of the Postpartum Stress Center, which has locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And, it can affect your relationship for years to come.

“It is so isolating and self-absorbing for moms, that we often forget that dad is a big player here. I see a lot of couples who struggle with this and get through it, but at the other end, they are still angry and unforgiving,” Kleiman says. “I know women who 10 years later have said ‘I will never forgive you for not being there for me,’ and the husband replies, ‘I didn’t know what to do, you were shut down and wouldn’t talk to me and weren’t treating me well.’”

Treating Perinatal Mood Disorders

If you think you have a perinatal mood disorder, one of the most important things you can do when seeking treatment is to involve your partner.

“As soon as I’m seeing someone, I want to get the husband and baby in as well, to see what impact it’s having on the family, and to give him the opportunity to talk about his frustrations and show him how he can support her,” Kleinman says.

The good news, Meyer says, is this: you’re not alone, and there is help -- for both of you. But you have to reach out for it. You can start by contacting Postpartum Support International at 800-944-4773 for referrals to resources in your area. Men may want to check out an online resource called the Postpartum Dads Project at http://postpartumdadsproject.org/.

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