What do you do when your loved one has just brought home a bundle of joy, but can’t seem to shake off the baby blues? Childbirth is a joyous, but emotionally draining event that can include mood swings, crying, anxiety, and sleeping problems for up to two weeks postpartum. But some mothers continue to have these symptoms, developing a severe, persisting depression called postpartum depression (PPD).
PPD is not a reflection of the type of mother the person will be or a character flaw. It can happen to anyone and is a common medical condition that affects one in eight new mothers according to the CDC. Because of this, family members and friends everywhere are looking for ways to help with postpartum depression.
If you have a new mom in your life currently experiencing feelings of disconnection from their baby, here’s how to support someone with PPD.
Know the symptoms
Postpartum depression is very similar to the baby blues, but its symptoms are more intense and persistent. According to the CDC, they typically develop within the first few weeks after the baby is born, but can also develop up to a year later. It is also possible for symptoms to start earlier, such as during pregnancy.
Symptoms of PPD include:
- Feelings of emptiness or sadness
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Irritability or anger
- Trouble sleeping, either too little or too much
- Withdrawal from social life
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or inadequacy
- Severe anxiety, including panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
- Suicidal ideation
Now that you’ve identified what you’re dealing with, you can better support the issue. It can also be reassuring to know that what they’re feeling is because of a medical condition, not because of who they are or the state of their connection to their baby.
Check in with the mom, not just the baby
It’s easy to get wrapped up in having a new baby in the house, but don’t just ask about the baby; ask the mom how they’re doing too. Questions such as “Being a new mom can be stressful, how are you feeling?” can open the conversation to more genuine answers rather than replies they might feel obligated to give.
It is important to listen with nonjudgment and understanding and focus on validating their experiences. Reflecting back what they’re feeling and acknowledging the difficulty of the situation can help them feel seen and less alone knowing someone else is there.
Stray away from overly optimistic comments such as “You should be happy!” or “Be grateful!”. The mother may already be ashamed of the difference between how they feel and how they “should” feel. Comments like that, while good-intentioned, can create more guilt and remorse.
Celebrate the small victories
When you have to cope with postpartum depression, it’s hard to notice successes instead of failures. Pointing out achievements, even the small ones, can be helpful for someone with PPD as they may not be able to recognize them themselves. This means celebrating things like when the baby finally latches or goes to bed after a long day. Applaud victories personal to the mother as well, for example when they ate breakfast today or showered after neglecting to do so because they were overwhelmed.
Whatever you do, just make sure to acknowledge their progress in a meaningful way because sometimes even doing the smallest things can be the hardest thing when you have PPD.
Lend a helping hand
This is a time to do, not ask. When you’re mentally exhausted, even thinking of a to-do can be overwhelming. Notice what needs to be done and take the initiative to get it done. This could mean:
- Doing chores around the house
- Running errands
- Driving them where they need to go
- Cooking or ordering takeout
- Offering to look after their child so they can nap or take a few hours to themself
- Going to doctor’s appointments with them
This doesn’t just lessen their workload; it lessens their mental load too. When there’s one less thing they have to think about, they can relax just a little bit more.
Don’t make it about you
This can apply in multiple ways. If you’re a mother as well, comparing your past experience with theirs can alienate them and make them feel more guilty for lacking. Unless you’ve experienced PPD as well, refrain from giving personal anecdotes and unsolicited advice.
Another thing you should refrain from is projecting your feelings onto the mother, even if they’re feelings of concern for them. You might be so worried and stressed about them as a close loved one, especially if you are their spouse, but relaying those feelings may make them feel personally responsible.
Being someone’s pillar of support constantly can be exhausting as well, and your feelings about the matter are valid. You deserve to be supported as well, but you may to need look outside of this relationship. Someone with depression cannot provide support, as much as they might want to. Reach out to your own social support system and identify the time and place to share your hardships.
Resources to help with PPD
Let the new mother know that they are not alone and that there are resources available. Go the extra mile and research the PPD resources available around you. Peer support groups or online forums can be a great community outlet for recognition that they are not alone and to learn postpartum depression coping skills.
There are also helplines such as National Maternal Mental Health Hotline (1-833-943-5746) and websites such as postpartumdepression.org that can provide more information, support, and referrals for treatment. Please note that these resources are not for those in crisis, and if you or anyone you know is experiencing crisis such as suicidal thoughts or postpartum psychosis, call 911 or the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
It’s important to know when to get help. Postpartum depression can affect not only your physical and mental health, but your relationship with your child as well if left untreated. If you or a loved one is struggling with postpartum depression, LAOP can help. Our compassionate and caring staff can offer treatment and services for new mothers that wish to enjoy motherhood and get back to their normal selves. To learn more about our treatment programs, contact a member of our admissions team today.