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  • Kaitlyn Pfiester

How Postpartum Depression Affects Your Older Children And What To Do About It

For the dads, partners, and helpers of moms dealing with postpartum depression.

Dad holding daughter. A look of overwhelm on his face, standing by the laundry

If you’ve never given birth or had a partner who has, postpartum depression is something you may or may not have heard of, and unless you’ve experienced it or someone close to you has, you may not know what it entails or how to help.

What is postpartum depression?

Mayo Clinic certified nurse-midwife Julie Lamppa says 80 percent of new moms experience the "baby blues" during the first couple weeks after delivery. The baby blues are normal and temporary. Postpartum depression or PPD lasts much longer and is more severe. (Postpartum Depression: What You Need to Know, 2015)

And while it is more common in new moms, it can still happen after having several children, adding to the obstacles parents face when bringing children into the world.

How does this affect older children?

Anytime a mother goes through something this server, it’s nearly impossible to keep the effects from reaching her children. As the partner or helper, it’s your job to help minimize the impact the best you can. There are a few key points to remember and keep an eye on throughout this challenging time.

Irritation and Frustration From the Mother

The mom has likely found herself more likely to snap or is more prone to irritation. Unfortunately, this is a symptom of postpartum depression. Don’t beat her up about it; she’s doing her best. Let her know she’s doing a great job, and (if she hasn’t already) gently encourage her to apologize to the kids, and you can take it from there. The best thing you can do is explain to the kids is that it’s not their fault.

Jealousy in the Other Children.

Girl with arms crossed looking angry

It’s not uncommon for a new baby to spark jealousy in the older kids. This is where you can step up and ensure the older ones are getting the attention they need. Grandparents or other trusted adults can also help fill that for a time. While they still want and need their mom’s attention, the mom MUST take care of herself to give them that.

How to lessen the impact of postpartum depression on your older children

Remember, they are adjusting too.

While your and the mother’s world turned upside down, the older children can sometimes get lost in the mix. But don’t forget, their world has turned on its head as well. Do your best to remember that.

Establish a routine

Because they are still adjusting, setting up a routine is a great way to reestablish stability for everyone in the house, you and mom included.

It’s okay if this routine looks different from what they had before the baby arrived. Perhaps this new routine even involves more tv time or more time spent at friends’ houses, especially if the kids are out of school.

Two boys watching tv together

Be honest with them about the situation.

Nine times out of ten, the best way to handle any difficult situation with your kids is to have an honest, age-appropriate conversation. Tell them in age-appropriate terms what’s happening. It can be as simple as saying you’re sorry for snapping at them when things are stressful. Let them know it’s not their fault. You have it under control, so they don’t need to worry.

Be careful not to put adult responsibilities on the older children.

When having a new baby, everyone involved has a lot on their plate. Try your best to ask for help from other adults rather than your older children. This can be a slippery slope, it may start with asking your oldest child to feed the younger ones, but this can become the norm if you’re not careful this can become the norm. This is known as parentification and can be extremely damaging to the child. For more on that, check out our post on parentification.

Provide a distraction to give mom a break

This can be as simple as a trip to the park or a movie night in the basement. The point is to give mom time to not have to worry about anything other than herself and the new baby. As the baby grows, try taking them for periods of time. This will strengthen the relationship between the older siblings and the baby, as well as give mom a much-needed break.

Come up with a code word

The codeword is a word the children can say to you or their mom if something is serious and they genuinely have to have your attention. This is great for children who are a bit older.

This will provide them with a sense of security, knowing that whenever they need you or mom, all they have to do is say the word, and they will be taken seriously.

However, life isn’t always that simple, and children of all ages like to ask for attention when you’re at your most overwhelmed and feel like pulling your hair out and screaming. So, if they use this word but you aren’t able to talk, set up a specific time to talk later when you can give them the attention they deserve.

Man writing meeting reminder on white paper

Ask for help.

No matter your role, be that the partner, the father, or the grandparent, don’t be afraid to delegate! Ask the mom what her biggest needs are and divvy those responsibilities to other adults. If you are the partner, there’s a good chance mom will want you around as much as possible for emotional support and to help care for the baby. If that’s the case, see if the grandparents will take the other kids for a few days or see if a trusted family friend will pick them up from school, so you don’t have to leave the house.

The bottom line is, if you have a community around you, use it! They want to help, and if the mom is struggling with postpartum depression, you both need all the help you can get. There’s no shame in that.

How BetterPsych can help

Postpartum depression is hard on the entire family. We’re here to help! Family therapy, as well as individual therapy, can be incredibly beneficial for these situations. If you’re the dad, the spouse, or just someone helping out, having an outlet like individual therapy is good for processing the frustrations and exhaustion that comes with dealing with something like this.

Couples therapy is also an excellent route to take if you are the partner. Creating a space where the two of you can reconnect and strengthen your communication can be a lifesaver for relationships going through the transition of bringing home a new baby.

Let us know how we can help on our contact page today! Or give us a call at (833) 496-5011.

We can’t wait to help you and your loved ones get back on your feet.

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