I said on the Postnatal Depression Toolkit page that not everything being covered is going to be applicable to everyone. This is one of those suggestions that is aimed more at the fathers who are suffering from PND than the mothers. So if you are a mother in all this, then feel free to pick another option. Or you may be concerned about your partner, in which case, there may be something here for you to read.
I will also note before I continue, that I’m probably making some assumptions here. I’m assuming the mother is the one on maternity (I know we have shared leave these days, at least in the UK) and that the father has probably returned to work, or at least finds himself in a position where he has less time to form a bond. Either way, here’s an extract from my first post about helping with postnatal depression:
Be as involved with the baby as possible. Research shows that the more the fathers were involved, reporting higher in care-giving but also in play time, the less likely they were to suffer from stress and depression. I’ll admit, this felt like it did little to help me at first, but as I kept doing it, I started to feel more and more connected with Isabelle.
The only way you’re ever going to form the bond needed with the baby is to actually be there with the baby. At least that’s the simple way of putting it. This is part of the reason why paternity leave should be extended from two week to at least four. Two weeks is not enough time for the father to not only bond with the baby, but also support the mother. But that’s a different issue.
Another thing that research showed was that it was important to have a supportive co-parent. Those who felt that their co-parent had confidence in them were also less likely to experience stress and depression. I know you’ll both be going through an awful lot of stress when this baby comes, but it’s important that you try and do it together.
Being the Mother, Trying to Help the Dad
I understand that there may be women out there looking for answers to help their partners who are currently suffering. I know at some point that was my wife. She would scroll through Google whilst in the bath looking for ways to help a dad bond with the baby. Well, I’ll try and give a few suggestions that worked for me and Rachel.
You have to let your partner do this in their own time. You really can’t force the issue, however hard that may sound. The more pressure you put on them to be involved, the stronger the resistance you will face. Even by changing your wording you can help. Instead of telling them to do something, just try asking if they want to. Simply replace “change her nappy” to “do you want to change her nappy?” It sounds silly, but it’s something that I felt actually worked for me.
You’ll also want them involved with as many enjoyable moments as you can. For us, Isabelle loved bath time. So I was, and still am, the one who bathed her. Rachel would then get her out, and do the occasionally difficult job of drying and dressing her. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t leave her to it, I simply sat there and played guitar and helped out where needed, and it’s something that we still do today. These days, Isabelle is pretty easy after a bath, and really does enjoy the guitar part, so it’s been a win-win for us. But doing this can put more strain on you, so don’t put yourself under too much stress. Just try to find enjoyable moments that you can do together.
If you’re breastfeeding, maybe you can talk about expressing so that your partner can enjoy bonding with a feed. I’ll be honest, this is something that neither me or Rachel felt that we wanted to do, and merely wanted Isabelle to only have the boob, but it is an option you might want to explore with your partner.
Ultimately, you need to keep an open dialogue between the two of you. Talking about what works for your partner and what doesn’t will only help them form the bond with the baby. And just know that forming that bond can take time. It may not come quick, it took me around 12 weeks to realise I had something with Isabelle, and another month or so before I felt like she needed me. But it did come eventually.
I’ll be honest, there’s a strong chance that you’re already pretty involved with the baby. Especially if you’re the mother. Maybe you’re too involved and in fact you might need to find time to yourself, but that’s the beauty of this toolkit. You don’t need everything that I suggest, if you already do all you can for the baby to help form that bond then simply move on to another suggestion. You’ve got this one sorted.
I will apologise if this suggestion sounds a little condescending, patronising or even offensive. Suggesting that the reason a father has postnatal depression is because he doesn’t do enough for the baby does sound a little bit like a dickish thing to say on my behalf. But it does happen.
I see why men would do it. A baby is a stressor, and people like to avoid stressors if they can. Herein lies the fallacy of avoiding stress. Our instincts tell us it will work, when instead it’s counter productive. Instead of running and avoiding, we need to embrace and absorb. That’s how we beat this stress. The baby isn’t going anywhere, so trying to avoid them isn’t going to work.
Don’t get me wrong, I was in this position too. Isabelle gave me a lot of stress, and I had to fight the urge to distance myself from her. Instead I made it my daily routine to play with her every morning. I would take her in her room, change her nappy, dress her, and then play with her. And eventually, although it took a lot of time, effort and other things too, but it worked. Now when I’m with her I love it. The stressor has become the relaxer, and it can be for you too, you just have to keep going.
If you want other suggestions to try to go alongside this, then feel free to check out the Toolkit I’ve made.