Welcoming a new baby home can be a joyful and overwhelming experience, even if you’ve done it all before. And while there are plenty of aspects of new parenthood that you cannot prepare for, there are some important ways that you can prepare to advocate for your postpartum partner to make sure that they are getting the care they deserve.
Healthcare inequities for Black women and birthing people
Racism and discrimination negatively impact health outcomes for Black families and babies. This racism shows up in many ways, resulting in lower rates of breastfeeding initiation, fewer diagnoses of postpartum depression, and higher rates of maternal mortality.
And while it’s hard to know exactly how to address these structural issues, there are some things you can do. One of the best ways you can help your partner get quality, timely care is by accompanying them to appointments with their provider, advocating for them, and understanding serious mental and physical symptoms that you should never ignore. Let’s start with mental health.
Your partner should have their first postpartum checkup ideally within 3 weeks from birth, followed by a comprehensive postpartum appointment at or before 12 weeks from birth. If your partner had any complications during birth or postpartum, then the first postpartum checkup will likely be sooner than 3 weeks from birth. This second visit will include a physical examination as well as a wellbeing check-in and screen for postpartum depression (PPD). Because we know that PPD is under-diagnosed in Black women and birthing people, it’s important that you also understand a bit more about PPD and symptoms that you should never ignore.
Postpartum depression is common in the first 2-3 months after birth, impacting 1 in 8 women. It’s different from the baby blues and includes feelings of hopelessness and extreme worry. To find more information about postpartum depression, tap here.
If you notice that your partner is experiencing any of the following symptoms of a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, it may be helpful for you to offer more support, perhaps in contacting their provider:
- Severe mood swings
- Irritability, anger, or excessive crying
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Major changes in appetite
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Losing interest in activities
- Fear that they’re not a good parent
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming themself or your baby
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If any of these symptoms sound similar to what your partner has been experiencing, it’s time to encourage them to talk to their provider to come up with a treatment plan. A treatment plan may include therapy, lifestyle changes, and/or medication. There are many options available and with your partner’s needs communicated, their provider should help in finding the right one for them.
If you think that you might be suffering from anxiety or depression yourself, reach out to your provider (or find one near you). This can be an incredibly overwhelming and stressful time, and you deserve care and treatment.
Because Black women and birthing people often report dismissal of pain and symptoms, to best advocate for your partner, it’s important to call their provider right away if your partner is experiencing the following serious symptoms.
- Persistent worsening headache
- Dizziness or fainting
- Vision changes
- Fever over 100.4 F
- Extreme swelling in the hands or face
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or racing heart
- Severe nausea or vomiting
- Severe or persistent stomach pain
- Severe swelling, redness, or pain in their arm or leg
Finding the right provider
If your partner doesn’t already have a provider who they feel comfortable with, encourage them to find one and offer your support here. A provider who is a good fit for your family will leave you feeling comfortable with all of your questions answered.
Your partner should know that they are the decision-maker when it comes to their care. Their provider is there to help them navigate these decisions and you can be there to advocate for their desires and needs, but they will make the final decisions about their care.
Ask questions or encourage your partner to ask questions when their provider makes a recommendation or offers various care options, ask your partner if they’re comfortable with the recommendation. Ask their provider about ‘shared decision making’ with the following questions:
- Can we talk about the risks and benefits of certain treatment options?
- Are there alternative options?
- Are you worried about cost or invasiveness?
Try the acronym BRAIN as a tool to help your partner make informed choices about their care whenever a medical intervention is discussed.
B – What are the benefits of this intervention for them?
R – Does this intervention present any risks for them? If so, what are they?
A – Are there any alternatives to this intervention?
I – What is their intuition or gut telling them (based on the information provided)?
N – What if they said “no” or “not now” and we did nothing?
Getting answers to these questions can help you have the information you need to advocate for your choices that are right for your partner.
You may have questions for your partner’s provider specifically about the ways that they are addressing their racism. They should feel comfortable answering these questions too.
If your partner is feeling particularly stressed or anxious, encourage them to write down their concerns as they have them, and bring the list to their postpartum appointments. You should both leave feeling confident and calm. If you don’t, this could be a sign that it’s time to switch to a provider who is a better fit.
- “Optimizing Postpartum Care.” ACOG, ACOG, May 2018, www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2018/05/optimizing-postpartum-care.
- “Depression during and after Pregnancy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 May 2021, www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/maternal-depression/index.html.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Depression.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617.