Mental health and parenting – some tips for dads

Over February I am running a series of guest posts on Post Natal Depresssion (PND) and Perinatal Mental Health from a male perspective.

The idea for this series of blogs came about from meeting the fabulous Rosey on Twitter (@PNDandMe) during an enlightening Twitter chat on #PNDhour.

It made me realise I know little about mental health issues, and that it might be helpful for other men to have access to information on PND, at the very least to raise awareness.

This first article comes from Kathryn who has first hand experience, and has written this extremely helpful post for partners of people suffering from perinatal mental health.

Kathryn (on Twitter @katgrant30) is married to Tom and mum to James, 15 months.  They live in London with their kitten Cat.  Kathryn tweets about her experience of mental illness and mental health services (as well as her love of all things baking) and has written a blog about her recovery from postpartum psychosis on the Sane charity’s website: http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/blogging/show_blog/592
 
You can find out more about postpartum psychosis at: http://www.app-network.org

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Whether your other half is pregnant, just given birth, or perhaps running around after an errant toddler, there is one subject many dads would prefer not to think about, but definitely should.

Mental health. 
 
The perinatal (fancy speak for pre and post birth) period is an emotional roller coaster and (unsurprisingly) women are at higher risk of developing mental illness during this time.

The good news is, there’s lots a supportive other half can do to help.  Here are some tips from someone who knows (in no particular order):
 
1. Sleep.  However much your little darling baby wants to feed, make sure you step in at some point in the first few days to let mum sleep.  Whether that means some formula feeding, expressed milk or a few minutes of putting up with a hungry baby – that time for rest is gold dust for mum and nothing else matters.  She may not be able to actually sleep, but at least she might be able to rest her eyes.
 
2. On the subject of sleep, try to keep an eye on any real insomnia developing in your partner – not being able to sleep even while baby is, or nervously waiting for baby to wake up.
 
3. Same goes for decent meals – watch out for any loss of appetite. Labour is a massive deal, and it takes a lot to recover from. So eating well is a must for good health – mental and physical.

4. You know your partner best so are best placed to pick up on any unusual moods.  Be aware though that these can change quickly, and may not present as typical depression symptoms.  Other mental illnesses that can strike include anxiety, or even psychosis – so if your partner has any history of mental health problems, be on the look-out for symptoms such as racing thoughts, mania, paranoia, insomnia as well as feeling down.
 
5. Access practical help from whatever sources are available.  If you have hands-on family who your partner is comfy with then don’t be afraid to utilise them.  Especially if you have to go back to work.  Practical stuff like food shopping, cleaning, laundry etc but also support such as making sure mum and baby get out the house every day, attend appointments, hold the baby while mum showers and field calls from visitors and well-wishers.  If you have the cash, think about hiring a night nanny.

6. Unless there’s a physical reason why they can’t, make sure mum and baby get out the house, every day if possible.  Find out what groups are running in your area (the midwife or health visitor should help here) and encourage your partner to go along.  At the very least, your local children’s centre will run groups for mums and babies.  If she refuses to go out, even if physically well, this is a cause for concern and worth getting to the root of.
 

7. Mums, especially mums who’ve been excitedly planning for this baby for months or years, often have high expectations of how they will parent.  They WILL breast feed for at least six months.  They WILL use Eco nappies.  They’ve read Gina, or the latest attachment parenting manual and they WILL follow it.  Mums who set such high standards for themselves might be in for a rough ride.  PND or other serious mental illness was not part of their plan so as well as the illness itself they also have to deal with a crushing sense of failure.
 
It isn’t always possible to breast feed, however hard you try, and those first few weeks are such a blur you won’t be able to read a sentence let alone a whole book.  Support your partner in her choices, make it clear to her what a great job she is doing – the baby’s alive!  Those baby wipes are not going to burn your baby’s bottom, so stop with the faffy cotton wool and water dance!  The milk’s getting in there so it doesn’t matter where it comes from, it all goes down the same way!   The fact you haven’t hand-washed that new babygro before popping it on him is not going to give him a rash!  This thinking won’t make the PND go away, but having such support may help mum feel less like a “failure” (although be careful not to belittle her genuine concerns, whether warranted or not they are real to her).

8. On this point, keep a weather eye on your partner’s anxieties.  It is completely normal to worry about how much the baby is eating/sleeping/puking/poohing… But there is a fuzzy line somewhere between normal worry and over-anxiety or even paranoia. Support networks from other mums can help here, whether that’s online or through NCT classes or whatever.  It’s also a good idea to develop a good relationship with your health visitor and baby clinic. 

9. Don’t assume that because your baby is approaching toddlerhood that your partner is “out of the woods”.   Also don’t assume that because all seems well on the surface that everything must be ok.  It can take some time for mums to acknowledge the problem and seek help.  You can only encourage and reassure them that all will be ok – help is out there, and it doesn’t mean you have failed!  If you can come along to that all-important GP visit, even better.

10. I can’t think of a 10th tip to make this a nice round number so will just say this – mental illness is perfectly treatable.  The quicker your other half seeks the help she needs, the quicker she will recover – so don’t go along with anyone (your partner or a well meaning friend) saying things like “it’s just the baby blues”, “you’ll feel better once the baby sleeps better” 

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5 thoughts on “Mental health and parenting – some tips for dads

  1. This is such an important issue and I’m really glad to see the way that you’ve focused on it. I’ll link back to this post in one that I’m going to put online tomorrow (Thursday 6th February).

  2. Pingback: Time to talk about mental health | Dad's the way I like it

  3. Pingback: Time to Talk...Part 2 - Visit from the Stork

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