I remember vividly watching someone at a moms' group who was suffering with postpartum depression as she broke down. My heart ached for this mom. As someone who has experienced depression in the past, I could only imagine how hard it must be to feel that way while caring for a baby, especially your very first baby. I felt so fortunate that after having a difficult pregnancy, my postpartum life was a happy one. Having an easy baby helped. People have a hard enough time wrapping their heads around depression and mental health issues in the first place; the idea that a woman could be severely depressed after an event that is supposed to bring someone the greatest joy is even harder for people to comprehend. Yet according to the CDC, 600,000 women get PPD annually in the United States alone. That's a huge number for something that's supposedly "rare" to happen. Obviously it's not so unusual or rare if so many women struggle with it, yet it's still not something that's talked about very openly. To feel depressed after birth is almost sinful in some people's eyes.
The question is of course, how then do we help mothers who are struggling with PPD? It's essential that we support these ladies and help them to get better but so many people don't know what to do. Let's talk about some strategies to be there for the momma whose baby blues don't fade away a few weeks after giving birth.
People offer to help when the baby is finally here, but for a mom with PPD, things can seem overwhelming way after those initial first weeks, especially since people often disappear, figuring the mom has it down to a science already after the first few weeks.
Offer to do household chores or take the baby out of her hands so she can do something for herself. Even better? Ask her what it is that she needs help with. She may want baby cuddles all day but really detest or find food shopping with the baby stressful. Ask how you can help. Sometimes it's just the asking that makes a mom with PPD feel a little better.
Read up on PPD to understand what's happening for this mother. She's not doing this or feeling this way on purpose. She's not a bad mom. She doesn't hate her baby. Thanks to hormones and the life changes that a child brings, her brain is complicating her moods, essentially. Becoming a mother is wonderful but also stressful and can be more stressful for moms who have a baby who is difficult or has health issues.
It's recognizing that PPD is real. That it's not that this mother doesn't love her baby or hates motherhood but that depression is like a vice grip that sucks the life and joy out of just about everything. That this mother's body is undergoing a lot of change. That depression makes everything feel so very hard to do, and yet it also makes you feel as if you're not good at anything.
Trying to understand and empathize with a mom suffering from PPD is the most important thing you can do as a partner, friend, family member, or co-worker.
Go With Her to the Doctor
Is she showing signs of PPD yet is afraid to go to the doctor or seems unaware of her PPD?
The American Psychological Association states: "PPD can affect ability to function in everyday life and increase risk for anxiety, cognitive impairment, guilt, self blame, and fear; lead to difficulty in providing developmentally appropriate care to infants; lead to a loss of pleasure or interest in life, sleep disturbance, feelings of irritability or anxiety, withdrawal from family and friends, crying, and thoughts of hurting oneself or one's child, etc."
If you notice any of these signs, reach out to your friend or loved one and say that you're concerned about her and state why. Tell her you are here for her and think she might be suffering with PPD and offer to go with her to the doctor.
You may have to be the one driving her there, but offering to be there while she gets help is a powerful thing. It is hard to admit as a mom that maybe something is not right because everyone is expecting you to "bask" in the joy of new motherhood or of a new wonderful infant.
It's possible that if she's not aware that she may have PPD when you approach her about this she may become defensive or resistant, but it's better to offer your helping hand than stay silent.
Take the Baby Off Her Hands
Offer to watch the baby so she can get outside for some fresh air or see some friends. Not everyone wants to play babysitter and for a mom with PPD having the extra help is great!
Time to Sleep? Or Not?
Is this mom suffering from sleep deprivation? That certainly won't help postpartum depression. Offer to watch the baby so she can sleep. If you're her partner, this might mean you take the night shift for a bit.
Is she sleeping too much? People who are depressed tend to sleep or feel lethargic. If she's very lethargic, it may be time to suggest something like this:
Suggest some exercise and if she can't get someone to watch the baby while she jogs or Zumbas, offer to help somehow.
If this momma won't go for a walk alone or to the gym by herself, show up at her doorstep ready to drag her out. It's easy when you're depressed to lie in bed, but if you've got someone there ready to drag you out and into your workout gear, it's harder to stay in your pajamas and say no.
A depressed person might not be apt to google for support groups but as a friend, partner, or loved one, you can! See what types of groups you can find. Make it easy for her: Facebook will most likely provide easy social support groups she can message and post to easily. Whatever it takes to get her to reach out.
Personally? Suggest a moms' group or PPD group she can visit in person. She may struggle to get there but if she has a reason to leave the house that's not work or errand related, it may help her feel better faster.
Note: Many hospitals have moms' groups and some may have support groups for PPD, so look there first for an in-person support group.
PPD isn't uncommon, but for many women suffering, it's hard to admit there's a problem. Infancy is a wonderful time but it also is very demanding on the mother, especially if an infant has high needs, health issues, or the mother lacks the proper support system. Be a beacon of light in this mother's world. Be there for her so she and her baby can thrive. You may be just one person, but it may take only one person to help this mother get back from the brink of depression's tight grip.