It wasn’t until I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety as a mom myself that I had ANY clue on how to support a mom with postpartum depression (PPD). I actually look back on what I did (or didn’t do) for friends and family who suffered PPD, and I wish I knew then what I know now.
For anyone who hasn’t suffered PPD, let me clarify a couple of things. First, postpartum depression comes in many forms. There has actually been talk in the medical community about renaming postpartum depression to be postpartum depression and mood disorder. In fact, PPD often shows itself in extreme levels of anxiety. As such, many mommas don’t identify themselves as having PPD, because they aren’t crying all day long or exhibiting signs of what they imagine depression to look like. Instead, they might be anxious constantly, nervous to try anything new with the baby, scared to leave their home with baby, etc.
Secondly, PPD comes at different times and lasts for different time periods. Some mothers experience PPD immediately, for others it kicks in after a couple of months. It might last a few months or it might last an entire year (or longer). They might require medication to support them, or some mothers might thrive from counselling only.
And… fun fact that I’ve experienced myself… you might think you’re doing fine, and then you get thrown off course. A stressful situation pops up in your life or you forget to take your medication for a couple of days. This is not an on and off switch.
In a nutshell, PPD doesn’t come in one shape or size. That said, most of these ways to support a mom with postpartum depression will work for moms at any stage of their PPD journey.
I mean this exactly as it is written. Listen. Unless you’ve suffered PPD yourself, don’t offer advice, just be an open ear and a safe place. Don’t say “at least this” or “but you’ve got a beautiful baby”. There are so many statements that we think are supportive, but the ultimate show of support is to let the mother talk, cry or do whatever she needs to without judgement or well-meaning offerings of advice.
Talk to the Momma’s Support Person
Likely this is the Mom’s significant other, but if you’re dealing with a single mother it will be different. Talk to that support person and ask what they think the most appropriate support you can provide is. Find out what the mother’s specific boundaries are, if any are in place. That way your help is more likely to have an impact.
Never Come Empty-Handed
Most moms that I know with PPD are overwhelmed beyond belief. It’s the simplest things that can show your support. Bring their favourite coffee when you come. Bring a freezer meal. Show up with chocolate. Get some grocery staples. Buy a box of diapers. Bring in the mail. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but every little helps.
Try and Get Her Out of the House
Fresh air does wonders for the soul. It’s all too easy for moms to get stuck indoors, but being in your home for days on end can make moms feel isolated and sink further into postpartum. Whether it’s going for a walk with them or babysitting while the mom gets some solo fresh air time, encourage, but don’t push, her to get outdoors.
Offer To Babysit
One of the biggest things that can help many moms with PPD is helping them to feel like themselves again. To do this, they often just need the time and space. Offer to babysit so that the Mom can get out of the house. Offer to take the child (or children) for out for the day, just so that the Mom can sleep if need be.
Lend a Hand
It’s the simple things. Do you see a pile of washed laundry? Fold it. Are there a pile of dishes. Do them. Can you bring some groceries? If you ask, you’re likely to be told, “no, no, seriously, I’m fine.” Unless you get the sense that it causes the Mom more anxiety for you to help them, be proactive and just help them. Obviously this depends on how close you are, but I wish I had done more for friends who suffered PPD.
Hold The Crying Baby
Particularly if the baby in question has colic, sometimes the mother just can’t deal with another minute of crying, or having the baby cry around their friends sends their anxiety through the roof. If you show that you’re not afraid to hold a crying baby, you’re likely to put that mom at ease. I know that I constantly apologized for my crying baby, then one day my former supervisor came over (he has two kids), took Jack and wasn’t afraid to walk the floor with him while he went into a red rage for a full hour. It was SUCH A RELIEF not to feel bad about the crying.
Share Your Experience
Clearly this one goes only for those mommas who have experienced PPD. Sharing your own experience can help enormously. Let the mom share her own struggles, but just knowing that you’re not alone is huge. One of the things I loved about my counsellor when I sought help for PPD, was that the counsellor had experienced PPD herself. I felt part of a community and normal at a time where normality was foreign to me.
If you’re reading this and you have a mom in your life who is suffering PPD, I truly hope that it helps. Remember, they are the same friend/family member that you know and love. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.