Maternal Post-Partum Depression Information For Families and Friends

Lifespan Health
Public Health

What would you like to do?

What you need to know

Helping mothers

Did you know?

  • One woman out of 11 asked for help with depression during pregnancy.
  • 19 percent of Nebraska women reported sometimes feeling down, depressed, or hopeless after their baby's birth.
  • Over 7 percent of Nebraska women reported often or always feeling down, depressed, or hopeless since their baby's birth.
  • One woman out of 4 experienced depression after the birth of the baby, but only one woman out of 8 asked for help with depression after pregnancy.

Support from family and friends is extremely important. Pregnancy-related depression is an illness that affects the entire family. If you are a family member supporting a woman with depressive symptoms, please do what you can to stay in the loop so you are advised of her treatment and progress.

What a partner can do

  • Be patient.
  • Encourage your partner to talk about her feelings.
  • Accept that her feelings are genuine and don't trivialize them by telling her to "snap out of it" or "get over it."
  • Try to understand her point of view.
  • Don't take her negative feelings or criticisms personally.
  • Tactfully limit visitors if she doesn't feel like socializing.
  • Enlist other family members to help around the house and baby-sit when they can.
  • Encourage a walk or some physical exercise every day or every other day. Go with her and the baby for a stroller ride, if possible, or suggest she go with a friend.
  • Tell her often that you love her.
  • Show her you love her with cuddles and by helping with baby care and housework.
  • Don't criticize her post-pregnancy body or demand she lose weight. She may already feel low about her appearance.
  • Care for the baby after work to promote your father-child relationship while giving your partner a much-needed break.
  • Encourage her to follow recommended treatment.
  • If you are worried, encourage her to see a doctor.
  • Go to the doctor yourself for information and advice if your partner initially refuses to go.
  • Reassure her that, with appropriate help and support, she will recover from her condition.  

Helpful things a partner can say and unhelpful things to avoid

Helpful statements

  • We will get through this.
  • I am here for you.
  • Let me know if you need anything.
  • I am sorry you are suffering. That must feel awful.
  • I love you very much.
  • This is temporary.
  • You'll get back to being yourself. (As she recovers, point out how you see her old self returning: such as smiling, more patience, or going out with her friends.)
  • You are doing such a good job.
  • This isn't your fault. If I were ill, you wouldn't blame me.

Unhelpful statements 

  • Think about everything you have to feel happy about. (She already knows everything she has to feel happy about.)
  • Just relax. (This suggestion usually produces the opposite effect. She is not able to relax because of the anxiety that produces physiological reactions like increased heart rate, shakiness, visual changes, shortness of breath, and muscle tension. This is not something she can just will away.)
  • Snap out of it. (If she could, she would have already. A person cannot snap out of any illness.)
  • Just think positively. (The nature of this illness prevents positive thinking. Only negative, guilt-ridden interpretations of the world around are perceived.)


Depression in fathers

Studies show that as many as 10 percent of fathers suffer from postpartum depression. This holds true particularly if the wife or partner is already suffering from pregnancy-related depression.

Risk factors for postpartum depression in fathers

  • Older age
  • First-time parent
  • Small circle of friends
  • Limited social interaction and support
  • Limited education
  • Concurrent stressful life events
  • Poor relationship with wife or partner

What a partner can do for h​imself

  • Make sure you have some time to yourself, apart from work and family.  You may need more personal time to restore perspective.
  • Try to keep up important hobbies and interests as much as possible. Think about how you may share these hobbies and interests with your older children. For example, taking an older child to a baseball game will support you and your child; it will also give the mother some additional relief at home.
  • Talk to close friends about your feelings and concerns.
  • Be kind to yourself as well as understanding of your partner; set reasonable expectations.
  • Realize that helping your partner adjust to the new baby may increase the strength and intimacy of your relationship.


Helping children understand and preparing family/friends 

Suggestions on communicating with older children about pregnancy-related depression

  • Use simple and descriptive words like sad, cranky, tired, weak, worried, or grouchy.
  • Reassure them often that they did not cause the problem.
  • Let them know that this is not the kind of illness caused by germs. She did not catch it from anyone.
  • Let the children know that mom is getting help and will get better soon.
  • Let them know that mom may have some good and some bad times as she recovers.
  • Ask the children how they can help mom to feel better - like drawing a pretty picture.  

Suggestions for family and f​riends

  • Find out as much information as you can about pregnancy-related depression.
  • Be patient and understanding.
  • Ask the couple how you can help.
  • Offer to baby-sit.
  • Offer to help around the house.
  • Let the mother know you are there for her, even if she doesn't feel like talking.
  • Appreciate that the father may also be emotionally affected by the demands and challenges of new parenthood.