How to help

supporters2

[Adapted from: Postpartum men, http://www.postpartum.net/Friends-and-Family.aspx]

There are many ways to support a new mother struggling with postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Here are some things that you can do:

  • Reassure her that she is a good mom and that things will get easier over time.
  • Encourage her to talk about her feelings with you and others.
  • Listen without judging or trying to fix anything.
  • Help with the housework; if possible, hire a house cleaning service.
  • Encourage her to take breaks and take care of herself.
  • Be reliable. Arrive home when you say you will and give her breaks that she can count on.
  • If possible, arrange childcare so that the two of you can spend time alone.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand. Encourage her to eat well and drink lots of water.
  • Let her know how much you care with reassuring words, e.g., “We will get through this,” “I’m here for you,” “I love you.”
  • Ask her how you can help. If she doesn’t know, make some suggestions: take care of the baby, make her some food, tidy the house, etc.
  • Remind her difficult feelings, the situation, and her distress is temporary and that it’s not her fault.
  • Point out her strengths and specific ways that you see her recovering; give positive reinforcement for her achievements, no matter how minor.

“You’re going to be hit with a lot of emotional shrapnel, and it’s not personal.”

There are also things that are NOT helpful when dealing with a mom who has postpartum depression and anxiety. If you do the following things, you risk making things worse and prolonging her path to recovery:

Tell her how much she has to be happy about and/or how lucky she is. She already knows. This will just add to her feelings of guilt. Ask her to “relax” or “snap out of it”. If she could do that, she would. She has an illness. Nobody can just snap out of an illness, or we wouldn’t have hospitals and doctors.

Get angry with her for being so tired, anxious or negative. She isn’t lazy or not trying. Her depression and/or anxiety causes a physiological effect that she can’t control.

At times you may feel angry or frustrated when her road to recovery is taking a long time. This is normal, but it’s not helpful to take these feelings out on her and it will only make things worse. If you are angry, it’s a sign that you are doing too much and need help yourself. In fact, you may also be at risk or have postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

Although this section is written with language (‘her’ and ‘mother’) that foregrounds providing support to women, many of these suggestions may also be helpful for supporting fathers.

For postpartum information specific to dads, click here. Men and women in same-sex relationships who are not the child’s or children’s primary caregiver may also find the information for dads with PPD/A and the information for mothers with PPD/A helpful.

 

Additional things to keep in mind:

[Adapted from: Postpartum men, http://www.postpartum.net/Friends-and-Family.aspx]

  • You can’t take away the illness. She needs time to get better. The most important thing you can do is to support her. Research shows that women get better faster if their partners are supportive.
  • Although there are things that will help, you can’t fix her. There is no quick-fix shortcut. Instead of looking for solutions, just listening is often the most helpful thing to do.
  • Don’t try to be a superhero. You can’t give her all the breaks she needs. Instead, make it your job to enlist help: family members, paid babysitters/nanny, housekeeping service and family friends are all valuable resources. Ask for help; say ‘yes’ when it’s offered.
  • You deserve to be treated with respect. PPD/A can make her irritable and angry; she may lash out at you. Try to understand that it’s her illness causing her reaction, not her. Talk to her about her anger and frustrations when you are both calm.
  • Be present. Try to stay home when you’re not working. Don’t shut yourself away when you’re home.
  • Get used to the mess. Even a healthy mom can’t keep up with the cooking and cleaning once the baby is born. Dishes may stay unwashed, laundry will be undone and the carpet not vacuumed often. If you can afford it, a cleaning service and restaurant take-out will make life much easier.
  • Let her sleep. She needs five hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to remain healthy. This may not be possible if she’s breastfeeding. However, if you can bring the baby to her just to feed and handle the rest of baby’s needs yourself during the night, or allow her to sleep in, it will help her recovery tremendously.

Videos:

Allen: Advice for other men
Allen advises that often the best thing a person can do to support a person with PPD/A, or any struggling new parent, is to just listen to them.  To view video with written transcript, click here.

 


Maria and Pablo: Importance of self-care
Maria discusses how self-care is a necessity, not a luxury, for new parents. She also shares how her partner, Pablo, came to realize that time for self-care was a crucial part of what Maria needed to recover from PPD/A.  To view video with written transcript, click here.

Kasimir: How partners can be supportive

Kasimir talks about how he finally realized the best way to support his partner when she was going through PPD/A was to listen to her. To view video with written transcript, click here.