The postpartum period presents new parents with a massive identity shift and an overwhelming flood of sudden changes. It’s important we talk about this and acknowledge that having a newborn is hard. While about 20% of mothers experience a PMAD, there is also a lesser talked about, yet still common situation that can occur.
1 in 10 new fathers or non-birthing partners experience some form of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder within the first year after the birth of their child. In this episode, Dr. Emily Upshur and I will dispel the myth that PMADs only affect mothers, the importance of preparing for this possibility ahead of time, and what you can do to support you partner (mom or dad) if you think they need help.
Dr. Emily (00:00):
I think it’s really important for that partner to feel confident in saying, I think this is a little beyond what the normative hardship is. I think maybe we need to bounce this off of someone and see if we’re doing okay.
Dr. Sarah (00:23):
We’ve come a long way since the days when postpartum depression and mood disorders were a taboo topic and women struggled in silence, but we still have a long way to go. It’s so important that we talk realistically and honestly, and provide real support for those welcoming a new child. For while the story that often gets portrayed is of instant bonding and intoxicating baby smells and coos and giggles. There is also another story, a very common story of moms who struggle to feel an immediate connection to their child, or who have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, or who are suddenly worried about everything that could go wrong. There is such a need to normalize this story too, so the mom experiencing this, doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her and knows where she can find support.
Dr. Sarah (01:13):
And if you’ve been listening to this podcast, the concept of maternal mental health is probably not something new to you. And if you haven’t listened to episode 13. Beyond postpartum depression, a breakdown of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, if you haven’t listened to that yet, go ahead and check that one out after you finish this episode. In it I break down the different types of PMADs, what symptoms are associated with each one, who’s most likely to be at risk and where to go for help. And as I said, in that episode, it’s important that we expand and broaden our conversation about mental health struggles that expecting or new parents may face beyond simply postpartum depression.
Dr. Sarah (01:53):
And that’s exactly what I want to do today. Continue to expand the conversation by talking specifically about new dads during the postpartum period. Did you know that one in 10 fathers suffer from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder or PMAD. Yet this is something primarily left out of baby classes or during the doctor’s appointments. There’s a massive identity shift that happens when you become a parent and that loss of self can be difficult to process for women and for men suddenly so much is out of your control. Plus the societal pressures and expectations put onto men to be the rock and provider can really cause them to feel panicked when they see their partner suffering and no way to fix that situation on their own. So while we want moms to be at the forefront of this conversation, understanding that they carry the brunt of the burden from a biological standpoint, it’s also so important to know, and to normalize the fact that dads can experience PMADs too. Because knowing you may feel this way, that you’re not alone and there is support out there can make it all feel a lot less scary and isolating if it does happen to you.
Dr. Sarah (03:15):
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Dr. Sarah (03:55):
And that is exactly why I created The Authentic Parent – a course about finding your confidence in your child’s first year. This is a virtual six week guided course. In it I break down the psychological principles of brain development, behavior, relationships, personality development, mental health, and resilience, to name a few things. Through a series of weekly videos that you can watch on your own time workbooks that guide you through integrating these concepts into your own life, live weekly coaching sessions with me in an intimate group setting (the groups are capped at 12 families) as well as access to an exclusive non-Facebook community platform where you can chat independently with other members from your course and where you’ll learn everything you need to know for your first year of parenthood.
Dr. Sarah (04:43):
By the end of the course you’ll understand the foundational framework of the psychological and neuro-biological development of your child so that you can calmly and confidently respond to any problem that arises, you can connect authentically with your child and truly enjoy parenting. And with our weekly coaching calls, you’ll receive personalized guidance on all of your parenting challenges from the week, as well as learn what other parents in your group are dealing with, getting you started to form your own tribe to share joy, support and lift you up when you need it most. Every kiddo is so different and so I really understand the importance of everyone getting personalized attention. So I’m limiting each group to 12 families and with three possible time slots, that means this offer is only open to 36 families. So space is limited. Sign up now, so you don’t miss the chance to reserve your spot!
Dr. Sarah (05:32):
You can go to my website, drsarahbren.com/TAP that’s drsarahbren.com/TAP. And add your email to the waitlist so you can tune out the noise and learn how to confidently tune into your child, allowing you both to relax and connect.
Dr. Sarah (06:00):
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. I’ve built a career dedicated to helping families find deep connections, build healthy relationships, repair attachment wounds, and raise kids who are healthy, secure, resilient, and kind in this podcast. I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights to help you understand the building blocks of children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting, voice confidence, and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Dr. Sarah (06:51):
Hi, welcome back to Dr. Emily Upshur, who’s here to answer some of your parent questions. Today we have a question that a father wrote in, and this father is wondering if we can talk a little bit about how fathers can help their partners who might be experiencing postpartum depression cope. He says that he feels that communication for dads on this subject is a bit lacking. And he himself experienced this with his wife, and he found that it was hard for her to communicate the issues that she was experiencing and feeling, and that he felt at a loss. And I’m wondering, this question makes me one think about how do we answer this dad’s question, but then also makes me think about, kind of another question that he’s not asking, but that I think comes up a lot, which is what do dads do when they themselves are experiencing anxiety or depression or other mood symptoms in the context of, you know, a new baby, because that happens too.
Dr. Emily (07:57):
Yeah, no I think this is a great topic. I think as we become more and more comfortable talking about postpartum depression and anxiety, I think it’s really important that we don’t overlook dads in this scenario. You know, I think the way we think about this journey is a transition to parenthood for both parents. So I think this is a great question and something that really does require acknowledgement and validation about how hard it can be for a partner, a partner on their own, right, as you’re describing, but also a partner supporting somebody who’s going through a difficult time, such as a postpartum depression or mood disorder.
Dr. Sarah (08:36):
Yeah. I mean, it’s really hard to watch someone. You love suffer, period. It just is, and it can make you feel very helpless. It can make you feel really sort of overwhelmed and confused. And especially if you’re a new parent, even if you have kids and you have a, you know, this might be your second or third child, but ans this can happen. But I think when there’s a new baby and you, as the partner who didn’t give birth to this child is watching sort of this, you know, mother, this primary person that we’ve all kind of gotten prepared that we’re, they’re going to take kind of the brunt of the, of the workload with this new baby in the very beginning, because just biologically that’s so kind of necessary that all of a sudden there can be a lot of fear for the dad or the partner who’s watching the mother struggle and you know, how do I support them? How do I support this baby? How do I support the whole family as a system? Like it’s, it’s a lot, it’s, it can be very scary.
Dr. Emily (09:37):
Yeah. And, and I think really the first step is dispelling any myths that this is not normative. I mean, I think it’s always difficult to say, oh, it’s such a blessing to have a child and it is. But there’s also real challenges. And I think it’s okay to say to partners, yeah, this is an amazing time, but there are also really large challenges. And it’s okay to say that it’s hard too. You know, so saying to, to fathers, like, this is you, you’re having a huge transition for your, for yourself, but you’ve also sort of your partner, your it’s not the same partner you’ve had all along. And now you have a new family member. You have this little baby. So encouraging dads to really be less isolated, I think is my number one recommendation in this, in this early time, you know, validating that their feelings are normative and it’s okay. And then sort of saying like, how can we check in with other people to make sure that you’re not isolated and alone.
Dr. Sarah (10:38):
Yeah. Yeah. I think having a community, I mean, we talk about this with mothers. So often, especially in pregnancy, like it, you know, you’re going to need support. You’re going to need emotional support. You’re going to need physical support so you can heal. And we don’t really talk about where the dads fit into this or where the partners fit into this, because you might not be going through a labor and delivery. But you’re transitioning in a big, profound way alongside this person. And I think there’s really sort of two issues here. One is, if my partner is going through a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, my partner is suffering and I’m watching this and I’m feeling helpless and I don’t know what to do to support them, how to I do that. And then I think there’s this other lane, which is the question I don’t think enough people ask, which is how do I get support for myself as the partner, as the non birthing partner? Because I think that there’s a lot of shame maybe, or fear that that’s not an appropriate need right now. Like you need to put your needs aside because your partner went through this enormous transition and you need to be there to support her. And that I think is that the crux of a big problem in our culture around supporting families as a whole.
Dr. Emily (12:01):
Certainly. And I think, you know, to start with the former lane of the, you know, these two sort of questions that we’re posing. You know, I think it’s, you know, it’s such a valuable role for a dad who’s, you know, often, most in tuned most in touch with what’s going on right after you have a baby to say, like, I don’t know if this is, this is, I think maybe we need a little extra help. You know, I think it’s really important for that partner to feel confident in saying, I think this is a little beyond what, what the normative hardship is. I think maybe we need to bounce this off of someone and see if we’re doing okay. You know, and I think that sort of helping partners, helping their partner access any help that’s needed or supports is extremely important role of of the father or the other, the dad in the situation.
Dr. Emily (12:58):
And the other piece of that is, you know, helping to label just that it’s hard and validating your partner. It’s really, this is really hard. This is harder than we expected, you know, or this part is really hard. I never expected this part breastfeeding, staying up all night, monitoring early diapers. You know, I never expected these things to be the things that got us off track, you know and validating those things that were, that are difficult so that we can move into, how do we get out of this bind? How can we start problem-solving for things only after we validate, you know, not just making it go, you’ll feel better in a few days, let’s just sit with it, let’s see how it’s going. Let’s see where this takes us. And then we can start to garner the support that we might need.
Dr. Sarah (13:48):
Right. I think, and I think there is pressure. Certainly I think, I think for all partners, but for men, especially to be this rock, right? I’m going to have all the answers I’m going to fix these things. I’m going to have, I’m going to get you where you need to go. You know, maybe you should take a walk or maybe you need to do this, or maybe we should just do that or let’s… And, and I think they’re very understandably are kind of thrust into fix it mode because that’s, societally where we have placed them with very little wiggle room. And so I think giving dads permission to say, you don’t need to have the answers. You can sit with your partner in their pain, in their suffering, in their confusion, in their anxiety. And you can name that for them. You can validate it and you can say, how can I help or what would be helpful or what can we do.
Dr. Emily (14:41):
Yes, I think that’s exactly it. I think what you’re, one of our roles in supporting dads is helping them raise their tolerance to this epic loss of control that is a to parenthood, right. Helping raise tolerance to, you know, that this is a big change, and this is a big transition that we can’t just hurry up at this stage and make it go away. Right. Because that’s an attempt at self-regulation for all parties, but, you know, particularly for dads, you know, I, I can’t wait till we get to where we’re feeling a little bit better we’re back on our feet. But I think partly it’s raising our tolerance for these early times that are difficult and validating that that’s normative, you know, it’s, it is okay. And raising that tolerance is a key piece of this.
Dr. Sarah (15:29):
Yeah. And I think one of the reasons why there can be that intolerance scramble is because that feeling of helplessness is really destabilizing, definitely. And leaning into the fact that I can’t control some of these things. I can’t fix some of these things. And that doesn’t make me unsupportive or it doesn’t make me the rock of my family that I can be the rock in another way. By saying, I’m here, I’m here with you versus I can fix this. I can move us through this. I can get us to the other side because sometimes we just can’t rush that process, despite our biggest wishes that we could.
Dr. Emily (16:12):
Definitely. Moving away from that problem solve or fix it role is an important part of these transitions as well.
Dr. Sarah (16:22):
Yeah. And I think too, the other piece of that question is like, okay, so what do dads do or partners, do you know, when they themselves are feeling it? Like not just, I don’t know how to help my partner and I’m feeling helpless and I can’t fix this, but I actually am feeling really anxious or I’m actually feeling kind of depressed, or I didn’t realize how hard this was going to be for me. Do I have permission to say this is hard for me? Can I take up space in that way? Cause I’m not, I didn’t just have the baby and I’m not really supposed to take up space there. And I, I think that’s a hard, hard place to be that that many partners find them in.
Dr. Emily (17:02):
Well, certainly, and I think, you know, core of that is parenthood and the transition to parenthood really is a loss of your sense of self and your confidence in that stability, in those, in that transient moment. You know, perhaps even just transient, but it’s very important to just validate that and say, whoa, we’re in a whole new chapter, a whole new ball game. And maybe I need a little support in this because there’s no manual, you know, as they say for these types of conditions. And, you know, finding and luckily more, and there’s more access now finding dad support groups or, you know, doing daddy and me classes with babies really does feel a little bit less isolated and alone and, and give you a bit more of a community. So you can say, am I having normative feelings or, or is this too much? You know, some of the questions, some of the battle is that question, right? Is this normative or is this too much? And I think being less isolated, reaching out to other peers and potentially reaching out to other resources for help, such as psychologists or dads groups, is another way to sort of say, it’s okay to access help in this time.
Dr. Sarah (18:23):
Yeah. And I think it’s also important. Like no one really talks about this, but one in 10 dads experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Like this is not something that just affects women. And so, you know, you absolutely can get depressed or anxious after you’ve had a baby. If you are a father that is a thing that occurs. And I think we have to start talking about that more so that when parents, when it, when it does possibly happen to a parent, they’re not so blindsided, or even potentially like scared or ashamed of that, because it’s, it’s a normal thing that does happen. And it does get better if you get treatment, it’s not like a permanent thing. And then I think Postpartum Support International even has resources for dads.
Dr. Emily (19:12):
Yep. And another piece of that, that’s important to note is timing. You know, this might be something that dad experiences eight weeks post the delivery of a baby, right. It doesn’t, it might be when their partner starts to reconstitute, starts to feel a little bit better, you know, and then now there’s room and space really for dad to have all of his feelings too. So it’s not, it, there’s no time limit on this.
Dr. Sarah (19:41):
Yeah. Yeah. And that, that makes me think of another issue among dads, which is a lot of times we don’t start talking about this until after it’s become a thing. After they’ve had these symptoms or after they’ve, you know, finally someone’s given them permission to say, okay, I think this is what’s going on versus talking about this in that preparation for the new birth. Or like, okay, if you’re a dad, if you’re listening to this podcast right now, and, you know, a couple who are expecting, send this to the dad, like dads need to hear this stuff before they become dads. Because I think we need to know that this was coming down the pike to help us to help us prepare a little bit. Just like, you know, Emily, you and I talk all the time about helping kids prepare and how that helps so much with emotion regulation and with distress tolerance and with problem solving and managing new transitions.
Dr. Sarah (20:39):
And we always encourage parents to help prepare their kids in advance for what’s coming down the pike. And this is no different, I mean we’re really no different than kids as adults in that way. Like human beings do better when we know what’s coming and how we can cope ahead, how we can increase support to that. The hardest parts are not as detrimental to us and don’t knock us off our feet. So, you know, I think getting you know, getting an opportunity to talk about this before one becomes a parent is also really important.
Dr. Emily (21:15):
Oh, I, yeah. I think that that’s sort of, some of the psychoeducation around transition to parenthood is really, really important. And while there are so many wonderful things and this by no means is to take away from that, but there are also, it is important to prepare for transitions of any sort, right. And this is a big one, you know, so there are some things that make it difficult and we sort of want to normalize some of that, that, those more difficult moments so that there isn’t so much shame because really so many people experience a lot of these symptoms and they’re really way more widespread than we would know if we talked about it more freely.
Dr. Sarah (22:01):
Yeah. And I also think like resources for mothers to prepare for this are a little bit more abundant. And I think that, you know, like, you know, I, when I had, was pregnant with my first, we did like a birthing class at my pediatrician, like my OB’s office actually. And they talked about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders for a few minutes, but only in the context of the mother experiencing it, never in the context of the father experiencing it or how the father could support the mother if she experiences it. So I just think it’s not lost on me that this information isn’t as talked about, and it’s not a resource dads have easy access to which hopefully we can change with this podcast episode or maybe others. But I think, yeah, I just, not having gotten this information in advanced is not your fault. It is a societal problem, I think. That hopefully we’re moving out of as more people start talking about this stuff.
Dr. Emily (23:00):
Yeah. And I think, I do think it’s also society. They were moving into giving dads more space and time. Dads parental leave, you know, there’s a little bit more space and time to manage these feelings and even have access to them. So that dads don’t have to just hop right back into going to work or hop right back into their normative schedule. So in that time, you know, there are resources out there like us that can help you just with a one-off discussion about, is this normative, how can, how can I help myself? How can I help my partner? It’s really about accessing that.
Dr. Sarah (23:39):
Yeah. I think this is going to be such a valuable resource for anybody who’s going through transition into parenthood, whether you’re a mom or a dad or a partner of any birthing person. I think this is a really important resource. So thanks so much for being here and talking us through this and we’ll talk to you soon.
Dr. Emily (23:58):
Sounds great. Thanks so much for having me.
Dr. Sarah (24:08):
Thanks for listening. An important takeaway from this episode is that new parents, no matter their gender can experience PMADs, this is not something to feel any shame or guilt about and PMADs are treatable. No one needs to suffer through this alone. When we are able to anticipate situations, know they happen frequently and know that there are others going through the same thing. It can really remove a lot of the fear and isolation we may otherwise feel, and it really helps encourage us to seek help. So go ahead and send this episode to every expecting or new parent you might know, let’s normalize this conversation and offer hope for those in the middle of this. Right now, if you’re a dad having a tough time, or you have observed a loved one struggling, and you think it might be a PMAD you can find help.
Dr. Sarah (24:57):
There’s this amazing website, Postpartum International, the website is postpartum.net. And if you scroll to the bottom of their homepage, there’s a button that says help for dads. And this section of their site is targeted just for dads and is an incredibly helpful resource.
Dr. Sarah (25:12):
You may also be interested in learning a little more about my new course, The Authentic Parent, finding your confidence in your child’s first year. It’s a six week virtual course that guides you through learning to calmly and confidently respond to any problem that arises to connect authentically with your child, and truly enjoy parenting. Along with video modules, interactive workbook, exercises, and access to an exclusive non-Facebook community, you’re going to have weekly coaching sessions with me to work through whatever parenting challenges you’re facing each week. I know how important it is for everyone to get personalized attention. So I’m limiting each group to 12 families, and there are only three time slots available, so space is a bit limited. Add your name to the waitlist and you’ll receive early access to sign up for the course as soon as doors open. You can learn more about The Authentic Parent course along with finding my free parenting resources and guides on my website, drsarahbren.com that’s drsarahbren.com. Until next week, don’t be a stranger!
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