By Stephanie Thomas
My newborn son, Henry, and I strolled through the aisles of a grocery store one cold winter day just weeks after his arrival. I took my time, appreciated the coos and compliments of strangers and worried about which ice cream flavor — flavors? — we should bring home.
An older woman approached, friend in tow, and I waited to hear which of his features she loved most. Instead she asked, “Is he sleeping through the night yet?” Her friend nodded, approving of this truly insane question. I tried to smile and said, “Not yet.”
Yeah sure, I thought. In the three weeks since we’ve met I mastered breastfeeding and got him on a solid sleep schedule — oh, and did I mention he never cries? You gotta love the expectations of motherhood. Try as we might it can sometimes feel as though we’ll never measure up.
But for moms dealing with postpartum depression, the gap between expectations and reality can be crushing. The understandable feelings of frustration and worry common among many new moms are experienced in overdrive with postpartum.1 And as a friend, you might feel unsure about the best way to provide support. So let’s walk through it together.
What a Postpartum Mood Disorder Looks and Feels Like
You may be surprised to learn that anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of mothers struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety after the birth of a child. We’re talking one out of seven of your girlfriends. That’s a lot, right? Sadly, the stigma associated with this mood disorder keeps many moms quiet.2
This means your friend may be going it alone — without the encouragement of people who love her and without the help of a doctor whose treatment she needs — as she faces the following symptoms:
- Frequent, unexplained tears accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Fear and anxiety that go beyond the norm of new motherhood and become debilitating
- Sleep disruptions unrelated to the baby, characterized by sleeping too little or too much
- Inability to feel close to the baby — sometimes despite desire, sometimes due to lack of desire
- Waning confidence in abilities as a mother which may interfere with care of the baby
- Intense feelings of anger and thoughts regarding herself or the baby that scare her1
If a nosy question at my neighborhood grocery got me down, I can only imagine how life must feel to a new mom battling postpartum depression. What’s worse, these women face a common misconception: that the love of a mother cures all and they could power through if they just tried.
Of course, science tells us the opposite. A mother’s love has no bearing on her likelihood of developing a postpartum mood disorder. And she has little control over the balance of her hormones post-childbirth or the chemical reactions those hormonal changes cause in her brain.1
Practical Ways You Can Help
As your friend works to develop a bond with her baby, give her another bond she can lean on — one found mom to mom.
If you suspect a friend may be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety:
- Offer to pop by and hold the baby for a bit.
- Ask how she’s coping with motherhood.
- Enter conversations with compassion.
- Relay your own struggles with becoming a mom.
- Tell her about the ways other mothers helped you.
- Let her know that you’d like to help her as well.
If a friend confides in you that she’s experiencing the symptoms of postpartum:
- Take her words seriously, resisting the urge to minimize or dismiss them.3
- Commend her courage in speaking openly with you.3
- Establish yourself as a safe space for conversation.2
- Assure her you hold no judgment for her present feelings.2
- Take a moment to encourage, with sincerity, her mothering abilities.3
- Seek out local experts who can help and compile their contact information in a neat list.4
Continue to walk through the challenges of postpartum with your friend as you:
- Treat her like you would any new mom: bring food, brag on the baby, wash the dishes.
- Reach out regularly — you might drop by once a week and call or text every few days.4
- Ask questions about how she’s fairing and be prepared to really listen.3
- Invite her out of her house — to the park, for a cup of coffee, to dinner at your home.
There are many programs, like the women’s program at Valley Hospital, that offer help to women suffering from postpartum depression. Studies show that mothers are more likely to reach out for professional help with postpartum depression when they’re cared for by loving friends and family.2 You can be that person for the new mom in your life.
1 “Postpartum Depression Facts.” National Institute of Mental Health, Accessed January 14, 2018.
2 Fraga, Juli. “Mommy Mentors Help Fight the Stigma Of Postpartum Mood Disorder.” National Public Radio, September 29, 2017.
3 Schuster, Sarah. “22 Ways to Support a Mom With Postpartum Depression, From Moms Who’ve Been There.” The Mighty, March 8, 2016.
4 Brill, Pamela. “How to Help a Friend with Postpartum Depression.” Fit Pregnancy and Baby, Accessed January 14, 2018.Share