Is it normal for a woman to feel emotionally low and exhausted in the weeks after giving birth? The birth of our child was one of the highlights of our married life, but now my wife is frequently depressed. She doesn't communicate with me and resists any romantic advances on my part. All of this is taking a serious toll on our marriage. Is her behavior normal? What can I do about it?
The answer to your first question is yes: your experience is quite normal and extremely common. Between 50 and 80 percent of new moms are affected by a temporary emotional slump popularly known as "baby blues," while about 10 percent suffer from a more severe disturbance known as postpartum depression. A much less common – but far more intensive – disturbance described as postpartum psychosis occurs after about one in 1,000 deliveries.
Considering the intense physical and psychological changes that accompany the birth of a baby, it's actually surprising that storm clouds aren't a part of every mother's emotional weather in the weeks immediately following childbirth. There are many physical factors that can affect a woman's emotions at this time, including hormonal shifts, physical exhaustion, pain, blood loss, lack of sleep and a wide variety of genetic considerations.
Postpartum "blues," the most common mood problem related to childbirth, usually develops during the first week after delivery. Symptoms can include irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, insomnia, lack of energy, loss of appetite, and difficulty concentrating. While this emotional and physical slump typically resolves itself within a couple of weeks, it should not be met with an attitude of "ignore it and it will go away." If your wife is suffering from the "baby blues," she needs your emotional support and practical assistance. If symptoms still do not improve, psychiatric care should be considered.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a more serious condition. It can begin at any time during the first six months after childbirth and may last for several months. A mother with PPD may be so intensely depressed that she has difficulty caring for her baby, or she may develop extreme unrealistic anxiety over the infant's health. While the problem can resolve itself in time, this does not mean that it should be left to run its course. Like a major depression at any other season of life, PPD is not a problem that can be solved by means of a little attitude adjustment. If symptoms continue for more than two weeks, you and your wife should seek professional help. Treatment might involve extended counseling, the use of antidepressant medication, or both. If your wife is breastfeeding, input from the baby's doctor will be needed before beginning drug therapy.
In the meantime, there are several practical ways you can come alongside your wife during this difficult time in her life. When you get home from work, be sensitive enough to put her concerns ahead of your own. Take time to talk with her. Ask her what her day was like and find out how she's feeling. If you have other children, take an active role in seeing to their needs and getting them ready for bed. Take charge of the baby, wrangle dirty diapers or other debris, or begin any other activity that will lighten her load. Try putting more emphasis on your home life than on the office and business concerns. You might even consider taking a few days off work, if possible, to help on the home front. Maintain the habit of a regular date night. And don't expect any sexual response if your wife is exhausted and depressed and you haven't done much to help. Frustrating as it may be for you, you're going to have to approach this situation with patience, delicacy and understanding if you want to see any kind of a change for the better.
If you think your wife might be suffering from PPD, you should encourage her to give our Counseling Department a call. Our counselors will be happy to discuss the situation with her over the phone. They can also provide her with a list of qualified Christian counselors in your area. We'd strongly recommend that you and your wife see a therapist together.
Finally, in the relatively rare but very serious disorder called postpartum psychosis, a woman experiences not only a disturbance of mood but also a break with reality. The condition may include hallucinations, delusions, suicidal thoughts and even violent behavior. Current research indicates that five percent of women with postpartum psychosis kill themselves, and an equal percentage kill their baby. Because of this risk, postpartum psychosis should be considered a medical emergency and must be evaluated immediately by a qualified psychiatrist. The condition can occur without warning, and there is a 30 to 50 percent chance that it will recur with subsequent pregnancies. The good news is that it can be effectively treated with appropriate medication.
Hope for Those Struggling With Depression: Barb Rosberg offers hope to those whose spouses are dealing with depression. She suggests ways that this struggle can produce spiritual fruit.