The New Dad's Guide to the Postpartum Mom - Kimberly Thompson

Introduction: Welcome to the New Normal
So she just had a baby, and you’re feeling like a third wheel – or like someone who just landed in a country where you don’t speak the language. Your home is full of strange paraphernalia like baby swings and baby slings, diapers and their genies, nursing bras and what my husband used to call “tall panties.” (Consider yourself lucky if she’s gone back to normal underwear already.) She may not even seem like herself these days, and you may not know how to help her. Read on.

The first challenge that you have as a couple is getting rested after the ordeal of labor and delivery. Even if there were absolutely no complications and everybody is in good health, she has just run three marathons back to back. You, of course, were hopping on and off buses and standing in searing heat to hand her a water bottle at every mile marker. (This is an analogy. Just go with it). Although she may have the #1 claim to exhaustion, you are a close second. Getting rested is hard when you have a newborn in the house. Adults need 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, so that we can go into that deep REM cycle that is so restorative. Newborns, on the other hand, need to feed frequently around the clock. As a couple, you need to find a solution that lets you take care of your baby’s nighttime needs with as little disruption to your sleep as possible.

When our second son was born, my husband and I finally got into a rhythm that worked for us. We kept the baby in a bassinet next to my side of the bed. When he woke for a feeding, I picked him up and passed him to my husband, who quickly changed and redressed him. He kept a paper bag, top rolled down to hold it open, at the foot of the bed. He got good at sinking the rolled-up diaper into the bag long-distance and in the dark (three points). I snoozed while he did that. Then he passed him to me and fell back asleep while I nursed him and put him back into his bassinet. We thought we were pretty slick. Work together as a couple to find what works to maximize your sleep, and you’ll both be in a better mood during the day.

Give Support
There are two kinds of support, and your postpartum partner needs plenty of both. The first kind is the practical things you do to make life easier for her. If you two have been splitting the household chores equitably for years, you might not need any coaching in this area. Just remember that her maternity leave is meant for her to heal and bond with the baby, not keep the house immaculate and have a hot dinner on the table every night. Continue to do your share of the household chores. If you don’t usually do much beyond throw your socks in the hamper, it’s time to start. Sit down with her and discuss what you’re going to do to make the household run smoothly, and what can be left undone for awhile. Accept the help offered from others, but make sure they are offering instrumental support rather than wanting to come hold the baby while she does the dishes.

The other kind of support is emotional. Get over the idea that all a moody woman needs is advice. Accept that for the first few weeks after childbirth, her emotions might be all over the map and you can’t fix it. Instead of being The Fixer, do stuff that you used to do when you wanted to be romantic. Draw her a hot bath (once she’s cleared for that), bring her flowers, hug and kiss her often, be patient about having sex. Tell her what an incredible job she’s done and how much you love her. My love language is works of service, so I’ve always found it incredibly sexy when my hubby folds the laundry or runs the dishwasher, but that’s just me. Don’t count on your partner feeling the same way!

I suggest using the SET method of communicating, if she seems ultrasensitive, anxious, down, or irritable (by the way, any of these things can be warning signs of depression developing). SET stands for support, empathy, truth. Any time you have to tell her something that might be difficult to hear, start out reminding her that you support her and understand her feelings. Believe me, it goes a long way to help her hear what you have to say.

Support. “I love you and think you are doing a great job as a mom.” “Call me any time during the day that you need me.” “I don’t expect the house to be tidy when I get home. I know you have a hard job.”
Empathy. “If I thought the baby was sick, I’d feel just as anxious as you do.” “I understand it was upsetting when I didn’t call you back immediately.” “I can understand how long and boring the days seem when you’re not used to being at home alone. I would feel restless too.”
Truth. “However, I don’t see any signs that the baby is sick.” “However, I did call you back as soon as I was free.” “However, it’s just not humanly possible for me to be home by 5:30 when I’m picking up dinner as well.”

Whenever it seems like an argument is brewing, the SET technique can help short-circuit it. And if an argument does break out, keep in mind that you are both tired and stressed. Forgive her, forgive yourself, and move on.

Bigger Problems
There are times that bigger problems are brewing. Some clues that it’s not just exhaustion and normal adjustment are:
*Problems with sleep (can’t go to sleep or can’t stay asleep)
*Problems with eating (no appetite or rapidly gaining weight)
*Crying, nerves, or irritability that last beyond the first week
*Exhaustion or fatigue that is out of proportion to the stage of recovery
*Out of control fears (sometimes accompanied by ritualistic behavior that makes no sense to you, or by panic attacks)
*Flat or emotionless face and voice, unusual speech, very little movement, or talks about seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
*Talks of death, the afterlife, suicide, or harming the baby
*Apologizes for everything, takes the blame for everything, gets defensive easily
*Is getting sucked back into a dysfunctional relationship with her family of origin

     If you see signs of bigger problems, encourage her to go to a therapist that works with new moms and that has a lot of experience in this area. Please don’t present it to her in a moment of frustration, “You need to go talk to somebody because you’re acting crazy.” That would be worse than saying nothing. Instead, go back to the SET technique and use it to destigmatize and encourage professional help. “I love you so much and it’s hard to see you suffering like this. If I thought that all of these little things were truly a danger to Baby, I would be just as anxious and exhausted as you are. However, I think your protective instincts are on overdrive. I think talking to somebody who works with a lot of new moms would help you put things in perspective.”

If she’s not open to therapy right away, she might be open to seeing her obstetrician or midwife first. Accept the step that she is ready to take, and encourage her to take it.

Last step: Bookmark this page, and reread whenever you feel like the postpartum period is going to last forever. It will soon be over, and if you’re like most parents, you mercifully won’t remember all the tiny details. Storing memories of tiny details requires adequate sleep, and that’s a luxury most new parents don’t get.


I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a licensed psychologist that works exclusively with women and their children, from pregnancy and postpartum through the stress of the empty nest. In addition to my professional credentials, I am a wife, mother, and grandmother. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, Texas, you can work with me in-person. If you live elsewhere in Texas, you can work with me online. Call the office at (806) 224-0200 during regular business hours, or send a secure message anytime. Find my book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, at Praeclarus Press or Amazon. Subscribe to my website to receive newsletters and blog updates.

One thought on “The New Dad’s Guide to the Postpartum Mom”

  1. Robin Barnes says:

    Great post for first time dads!

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