How to help someone with Postpartum Depression

How to help someone with postpartum depressionShame, fear, humiliation, and the stigma of mental illness stand in the way of many women speaking up when they begin to feel the symptoms of postpartum depression. But postpartum depression (PPD) is real, it is the most common complication of pregnancy and it is treatable. How we talk and support women who are dealing with postpartum depression can help reduce the stigma, the shame, the fear and the humiliation and encourage them to get treatment.

Dr.Irene Stafford, Asa Lader RN DONA, and women who have faced PPD share their suggestions for how to help women with PPD.

To find out more about the symptoms and signs of PPD check out this post:
You’re not alone – Postpartum Depression, it’s not just the Baby Blues

1. Be there

Listen, without judgment. Don’t dismiss feelings or mom’s concern that the way she is feeling isn’t normal.

“What didn’t help were people who kept assuring me that all new moms were tired. Or who acted like I was complaining too much. It made me think I had to just try harder instead of helping realize how overwhelmed I truly was.” –A.B.

2. Help mom connect with others in the same situation

Let her know she isn’t alone, she isn’t to blame, this isn’t her fault and she isn’t weak. If possible, find out about support groups and offer to take her or look after children so she can go.

“Having a mommy support group was good. It got me outside instead of crying and feeling suicidal. I did not understand what was happening and my then husband was making it a character flaw.” –O.W.

“When society gives the impression that pregnancy and birth should be bliss, and they aren’t, being able to speak with others who are going through the same things is so important because of the taboo that keeps many of us from speaking up in the first place.” – S.F.

3. Be gentle, but encourage them to seek help. Let them know PPD is a 100% treatable and that professional treatment helps

Offer to take them to an appointment with their physician or to the Emergency Room. Recognize the potential severity of PPD and don’t dismiss medication as unnecessary. Many women do not need medication for PPD, but for some it is necessary.

“Family members questioned why I was going to take medicine for PPD. The suggestion was that I was weak and I just needed to get it together. But I couldn’t just get it together and so I took the medication, it helped and I came of it months later. Second time round when symptoms started to show up my family was much more supportive of my treatment plan and really stepped up to help.” -D.W.

“I went to a support group and took meds for a time. Both definitely helped. And believe it or not, Brooke Shield’s book helped!” –L.S.

4. Know the symptoms

Women respond in different ways. Be aware that they might not recognize what they are dealing with.

“ Reading about the variety of what PPD can look like helped. I didn’t catch it at first because I wasn’t crying. I was angry.” –A.B.

5. Help with the little things and the not so little things

Lader suggests offering to help make things easier to meet basic needs. Make specific offers of help as mom might be to overwhelmed to even think about what she needs.
“Did you eat today? Can I make you something?”
“Do you want me to watch the baby while you sleep/shower?”
“I have a thing for laundry. Let me get the kids’ laundry done for you.”
Assure them they don’t need to entertain you, this is just what friends do, they help each other.

“Just someone to bring me lunch or a glass or water, and just sit and be helped.” – S.M.

Local Tucson non-profit Heartsounds provides no cost, in-home help for low-income moms in the form of doulas. Lader, a certified doula herself, is on the board of Heartsounds and explains how doulas can help moms and babies.
Doulas can help you get rest and nutrition you need. Disturbed sleep and eating habits can exacerbate the situation.
Doulas can help mom with breastfeeding and with bottle-feeding. They can help answer questions; offer encouragement and guidance as new mothers face the challenges of caring for a new baby.

“I was struggling with breastfeeding, with sleeping, with keeping things in perspective and felt so overwhelmed. My mom had come out just after my baby was born for a weekend, but she’s the caregiver for my elderly father and she couldn’t stay. The rest of the family was thousands of miles away and I had no-one to help as I sank deeper and deeper. When my husband went back to work I was so isolated and it just all came down on me. I didn’t feel like I could ask any of my friends to help. I was embarrassed. They’d all managed, why couldn’t I? I just cried all the time. Plus, honestly, we just don’t ask non-family in my culture. My mom found the name of a postpartum doula and paid for her to come over and help. That was her baby gift to us. I didn’t even know what a postpartum doula was. I felt really uncomfortable about it at first, but the doula put me at ease and it made a huge difference. Plus I had to accept it because it was a gift. “ – D.H.

6. Don’t ignore the potential for PPD in those that have had miscarriage or death of an infant.

Dr. Irene Stafford encourages friends and family to recognize that miscarriage of a pregnancy or still birth is a risk factor for postpartum depression, compounded by the grief of loss.

How doctors assess for PPD
Dr. Irene Stafford explains that in the mother’s six-week check-up the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale, a short survey is given. Dr. Stafford shares that it is great at teasing out what is a normal response to the challenges of new motherhood, from that of someone faced with postpartum depression. However, the Edinburgh is only as effective as the honesty of the answers given and serious PPD can set in before. Dr. Stafford and her colleagues actively attempt to screen patients for those who might be at increased risk and provide earlier intervention and support.

What would you add to this list?

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