If a woman in your life has recently given birth then there’s a 1 in 5 chance they are struggling with postpartum depression.
It might be your partner, daughter, sister or friend but no matter who they are to you, it’s normal to feel helpless seeing them in pain. It can be even more discouraging when you try to help them and they shut you out. But don’t be offended, mental illness is a tricky situation and displays in many different ways.
From a mother who has battled it first hand, here are a few tips that might help you understand her better and be able to provide the right type of support.
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1. know the symptoms
It’s very common for a mother to be in denial about their postpartum depression at first. Even if she does have her suspicions, it’s unlikely that she will admit it out loud. This is why it’s important to recognize the symptoms in someone else so that, even if she doesn’t want to talk about it, you can be there to support her.
2. believe her
There is a lot of stigma around postpartum depression and many people still don’t believe it’s a real disease. If she does open up to you about having postpartum depression – believe that her pain is real. She is not being overly dramatic. She is not “just tired.” Motherhood is overwhelming in general and it will be for a very long time but postpartum depression is different – it’s uncontrollable.
3. help her get some rest
Sleep deprivation can aggravate postpartum depression but postpartum depression can cause insomnia so it’s a lose-lose situation. Do whatever you can to help her rest. If she cannot sleep at night, then make sure she gets frequent, short naps in throughout the day.
With a new baby, it’s natural and understandable to be sleep deprived. If you’re having a lot of difficulty getting baby to sleep, consider hiring a sleep training expert.
But if baby is sleeping through the night and mom isn’t, then there’s definitely something wrong.
4. don’t tell her things could be worse
It’s natural to want to tell her stories about someone else who had it worse in the hopes of making her feel better but it will have the opposite effect. Instead of being thankful that she isn’t having suicidal thoughts, she might see her pain as insignificant and feel guilty for having such a difficult time when others are going through “things that are worse.”
It’s still important to make sure that she knows she isn’t alone – as long as she knows that debilitating pain from postpartum depression comes in all forms.
5. don’t try to explain why
It’s not her fault. But she will try to blame herself anyway. Trying to find a reason why this has happened can inadvertently put more guilt on her.
Yes, she’s tired, yes, breastfeeding is hard, yes, labor was intense but those are not the reasons why she has postpartum depression. If labor and recovery were a breeze, baby was nursing fine and sleeping well she could STILL have it.
Knowing that postpartum depression does not discriminate and there was nothing she could have done to avoid it will relieve some of her guilt.
Encourage her to take part in the free genetic research study to help determine the root cause of postpartum depression.
6. keep it on the down low
For some reason, having a mental illness is embarrassing. The last thing she wants is everyone at your office knowing about her postpartum depression and offering to help. She will be mortified if someone she barely knows asks her how she’s feeling, no matter how good their intentions might be.
The day will come when she will openly want to talk about it but it should be her who decides when that is.
7. send her a text message but don’t expect a reply right away
Don’t expect her to answer the phone when you call. Better yet, don’t phone her. For someone with postpartum depression, their emotions change throughout the day without warning. Chances are, when you want to talk, won’t be when she wants to talk and vice versa. A text message is a great way to check in and see how she’s doing while allowing her to reply when SHE feels up to it. You can even write something like “you don’t have to reply right away – whenever you feel like talking just text me.”
8. don’t force her to socialize
And don’t be offended if she doesn’t want to see you. She’s not trying to keep the baby all to herself. Going out or hosting visitors means putting on a smile and talking to people when all she wants to do is be alone. Even her inner circle can be extremely irritating. Let her know that she can take all the time she needs and that you will be there for her when she’s ready.
Download this FREE printable PDF workbook for her to use as a safe place to write down her thoughts and feelings.
9. cook food for her
Appetite changes are a major symptom of postpartum depression. She will either not want to eat anything at all or not be able to stop eating. Having a fridge stocked with healthy ready-to-eat food will help her get the calories and nutrition she so desperately needs (especially if she’s breastfeeding) without all the added exhaustion of having to prepare it.
10. clean the house but don’t make a big deal about it
Moms are infamous for not asking for help. Do it while she’s napping so she can’t tell you to stop. Cleaning will be the last thing on her mind but looking around at piles of laundry, overflowing garbages or dishes in the sink will cause her more anxiety. It’s one thing to tell her not to worry about the cleaning, it’s another to make the clutter magically disappear.
11. get up with her in the middle of the night
If she’s breastfeeding, you may feel like there’s no point in getting up for night time feedings. But those dark, lonely hours can be the scariest times for a mother with postpartum depression. If for no other reason than to keep her company – get up with her. She may tell you that she’s OK and to go back to bed but at least get up and check on her – check if she needs anything, rub her feet or her back while she nurses.
12. help her find strangers to talk to
Don’t try to force her to talk to you about her feelings. It’s much easier to talk to strangers who understand and won’t judge her and who she may never see or talk to again. She can be completely honest and vulnerable without having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings or having them take things the wrong way.
Whether it’s an online forum, support group or a therapist – she will be much more comfortable talking to someone who has been in her position before and/or who has experience to share.
The Postpartum Support International’s Helpline is always available.
postpartum depression Facebook groups
13. take pictures of her
Not happy, dressed up, perfectly posed pictures but real pictures. Pictures of her nursing in her pajamas. Pictures of her holding or sleeping beside the baby. Pictures of her when she hasn’t showered in 3 days and has dried breast milk all over her shirt. Take pictures of her crying. Aim for honest pictures of her so that she can look back at them when she is better and remember this part of her life.
Reassure her that you will never show them to anyone else or post them anywhere, they are only for her.
14. wait it out
Don’t try to rush her recovery. Helping her find the right path to recovery is important but don’t keep asking if she’s feeling better yet. If she has a good day, don’t assume she’s past the worst of it.
Know that there is no cure for mental illness, only treatment options to keep it under control.
She may go years without an episode, only to have it triggered by stress or sleep deprivation or something else entirely. Many women will battle postpartum depression for years, if not forever, so if you’re in this with her – prepare to go the lengths for her.
For more information, check out this post: How long does Postpartum Depression Last? Accelerate Your Recovery!
Postpartum depression is one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in North America for a reason. Women, moms in particular, pride themselves in being able to handle it all and admitting that they are struggling or need help is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. While these tips may help the woman in your life open up to you, nothing is ever for certain when it comes to postpartum depression and many women experience it in different ways. If all else fail – love her and support her and don’t ever give up on her.