"My experience tells me this: You as a partner cannot make the illness go away. All you can do is be patient; provide support and source the appropriate outside help without taking over that person’s life."
On this page
- Support at home
- Support during admission to hospital
- Support to bond with baby
- Support to navigate the healthcare system
- Support during recovery
This page is for partners, family members and friends who find themselves supporting someone with postpartum psychosis. In general, we have written as if we are speaking to the woman's partner. We hope a lot of the information will be relevant to others too.
We have also published a guide specifically for partners which has a lot more detailed help and information. It includes sections on understanding PP, your role in treatment, looking after baby and planning for the future.
If your partner, daughter, sister or friend has been diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, it can be very distressing for you too. You may feel frightened, shocked and isolated. We have practical and emotional support for you too.
You may also find it helpful to look at our information on treatments. This will help you understand what might happen next.
Managing your partner, new baby and any older children at home can be tough if you have to wait for a bed to become available. Here are some practical tips to keep the situation as calm as possible:
- Ask one or two trusted family members or friends to come and stay.
- Ask friends or family to help with looking after the baby or older children.
- Help your partner to get as much rest or sleep as possible.
- Keep surrounding noise and stimulation, such as TVs and radios, to a minimum.
If your partner is experiencing psychotic symptoms (loss of touch with reality) she may have delusions or hallucinations that are very real to her. Here are some tips for dealing with acute psychosis:
- Sitting beside your partner, rather than in front of her, can seem more comforting and less confrontational if she is confused.
- Try to remain a 'friend' and talk to her, although she might not be able to take it all in.
- Try to keep things quiet and calm, loud noises and TV images may be too stimulating for her.
- Try to limit your partner’s mobile phone use if possible, so she doesn't have the embarrassment later of realising she made calls to distant friends or work colleagues when unwell.
- Try to be understanding about what she thinks is real.
- Try not to take upsetting things she says or does personally. These things are caused by the illness and not what she really thinks.
- Don't hesitate to call 999 or ring the mental health crisis team if you are at all concerned for the safety of your partner, your baby or yourself.
The day that your partner is admitted to hospital will be upsetting and exhausting. You will have a lot of questions and will still be dealing with the shock of your partner becoming ill.
Here are some things to consider for all admissions.
- You may have a long wait on arrival at the hospital.
- Don’t be afraid to ask staff if you need support while waiting.
- Get some rest if you can; take a break if you need to.
- Find out about when the ward rounds are and ask if you can attend. These will be the times that your partner's psychiatrist will be with her and will give you an opportunity to discuss treatment with the psychiatrist and your partner's nursing team.
- Find out if your partner has a named nurse.
- Find out about visiting hours.
- Help to settle your partner in if possible, help her to look through any information leaflets about staying on the ward e.g. mealtimes, medication times, visiting times.
- Although your partner might not be able to take much in, and what she says might not make much sense, talk to her calmly and as a friend. Try to ensure that the experience is not frightening for her.
- Find out how your partner's midwifery care (e.g. looking after stitches or c-section scars, feeding support, monitoring infections) will happen on the ward.
- Find out if your partner can use her mobile phone or where her phone will be kept.
- Discuss the ward's policy on phone usage.
- Make sure you have the telephone number for the ward before you leave.
There will be a lot of information for you to take on board in the coming days, as well as dealing with the normal exhaustion of having a new baby. You might find it helpful to get a notebook to record information you need to remember.
"The staff on the MBU were lovely and whilst I knew I could approach them to ask questions it would have been nice to sit down with them early on to discuss Nic’s illness and their intended plan for her recovery."
When you go home
You will probably be feeling exhausted and emotional when you leave the hospital. It's worth asking someone to drive you home from the hospital or getting a taxi if you don’t feel up to driving safely.
You may really need to talk to someone about what has happened, but it’s also OK to wait until tomorrow to ring friends and family. Your role for a few weeks is going to be balancing looking after yourself, your partner and bonding with your baby whether at home or in the Mother and Baby Unit (MBU).
"The scariest time was being at home alone with Jet. I had my three-week-old baby sleeping in my bed, and Laura wasn’t with us. I had no idea if she could get well again or if she was even coming back at all."
If your partner is in a general psychiatric ward then you will also have the responsibility of baby care. We have more information and support on managing this here.
Whether in a Mother and Baby Unit or an adult psychiatric hospital, your partner will value your support and encouragement to help her build confidence in bonding with baby. When you visit, you can do simple things like feeding, changing or dressing the baby together. Encourage your partner to have as many cuddles with the baby as possible, she might find a sling helpful rather than a pram if you are taking the baby for a walk around the hospital grounds.
Our information on being a parent to a newborn after PP has some good tips and advice on bonding that you might want to share with her, or help her to do.
Here are some specific questions you might want to ask if your partner and baby are staying in a Mother and Baby Unit:
- Will staff be supporting your partner to breastfeed or bottle feed?
- How much babycare do they envisage your partner doing in the first few days (e.g. nappy changing, feeding, dressing, bathing)? Often in the first few days nursing staff will do much of this to help your partner to sleep, but it’s important to find a balance so your partner can stay confident in her skills as a new mum.
- How can you stay involved in babycare when you visit?
- Do they have visiting hours for partners or can you come whenever you like?
- Can you stay overnight with your partner? (Not all Mother and Baby Units have facilities for partners to stay overnight)
Here are some specific questions you might want to ask if your partner is in a general psychiatric hospital:
- Is there somewhere to have some privacy when you visit – e.g. family rooms or ward rooms?
- Can you visit with the baby? When and for how long?
- Are there facilities to refrigerate/warm formula?
- How do they plan to manage any postpartum physical issues (e.g. Caesarian-section care)
- Will your partner have short leave periods when you could take the baby for a walk around the grounds or go to a café?
- Is there the possibility of transferring to a Mother and Baby Unit when a bed becomes available?
You may also want to look at our information on support for taking care of your baby.
When your partner is first admitted to hospital for treatment, it can feel that there is a whole new language to begin to understand. You may have to get to grips with legal terminology around sections of the Mental Health Act and there will be processes such as ward rounds and negotiations around periods of leave to get used to. In an ideal world you will be given lots of opportunity to ask questions and feel included as a part of your partner’s care team.
However, this is not always the case and you may disagree with the care team at times during your partner’s treatment. Here are some tips for dealing with tricky interactions:
- Ask health professionals to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Have confidence in your own opinion. You know your partner best, and can give an insight into who she is when not unwell.
- Give yourself time to think and research treatment options.
- Negotiate where at all possible. For example if you would like more leave away from the ward, suggest that this could be accompanied leave with a member of the ward staff to start with.
- If you feel you are not being listened to, you could look in to working with a Mental Health Advocate.
- Visit APP’s forum to ask questions of other families and discuss issues that are worrying you.
"I would have liked to have understood more about the condition and what I could do to help. What was normal? None of it felt normal to me, and I felt very isolated and out of the care process."
If you live with the person you are supporting, you will have a big role to play in helping her settle into life at home.
Discharge is the beginning of a deeper recovery process, and it can be a long haul. A good place to start is our recovery guide written by women who have been through PP.
Tips for the early stages:
- Your partner will probably have lost confidence as a mum. Try not to be the 'baby expert'. Let her know there are things you're unsure of and worried about too.
- Try to support her taking small steps with independent babycare, rather than backing out and letting you do it.
- Make time to talk to each other – you are both getting over a big ordeal.
- Try to have fun together and enjoy some of the things you've missed.
- Prioritise spending time together.
- Take lots of photos of yourselves and your baby. It will help your partner to recall this time better and order her memories when she looks back.
- Make sure that you have a plan in place should your partner's symptoms get worse again, and that you know who to call in an emergency.