The anger. The exhaustion. The complete and utter sadness and powerlessness. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s hard to understand what postpartum depression feels like. And whether you’ve been lucky enough to never have had it (or you did and you came out on the other side), it’s important to show support to the women in your life who might be struggling after having a baby. That's why learning how to help someone who has PPD can really make a huge difference in a new mom's life.
Postpartum depression is a lot more common (and serious) than you might think. The Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 9 women experience postpartum depression. “Sometimes, providers and family confuse PPD with the baby blues, but the baby blues resolve by about two weeks postpartum, whereas PPD symptoms may extend beyond that and might not even arise until after that point,” Emily Souder, MA, MSW, LCSW-C, a licensed therapist in Maryland who specializes in perinatal mental health, tells Romper. “Those with PPD might feel hopeless, tearful, have little or no interest in doing things they used to enjoy, have trouble connecting with their new baby, or even might start thinking that their family would be better off without them.”
Naturally, you want to offer assistance… but here’s the problem: Just telling your friend that you’re there to help might not necessarily, well, help. “Accepting help is something that many women have trouble with,” says Souder. “That’s why offering something specific that you can do can take some of the pressure off.” So if you want to reach out, look at this list to see the ways in which you can make life a little better (and brighter) for someone who has PPD.
1. Reassure Her
When you’re in a deep depression, it can feel like you’re the only one experiencing it. And that might make you feel even more isolated. “Women are indoctrinated into a societal message from childhood that having a baby is pure bliss, ultimate love, and bonding occurs immediately,” Alena Gerst, an integrative psychotherapist in NYC, tells Romper. “That leaves so many moms who are suffering from PPD feeling isolated and wrong for how they feel.” So reassure your friend that what she’s going through is common — and more importantly, treatable.
2. Offer An Ear
You may find that your loved one wants to talk about how she feels — or she might clam up. Either way, let her know that you’re there to listen without judgment. “You don't need to try to fix the situation,” Souder says. “But feeling heard is so important.” While you don’t want to downplay what she’s feeling, it’s important to validate her experience.
3. Volunteer To Babysit
Getting kids out of the house and loaded into the car can seem daunting even when you’re not suffering from PPD. So if your friend has older children, you can step in and do some chauffeuring for her. “Offer to pick up older kids from school or activities so she doesn’t have to worry about shuffling her new baby and trying to get an older kiddo out the door on time,” licensed professional counselor Amy Jackson, LPC, tells Romper.
4. Make Some Meals
It’s hard to show your culinary skills when it feels like life is crashing in on you. That’s why you can offer to bring your loved one some ready-made meals. Ask her what she likes, and then just tell her you’re dropping it off — no questions asked. “Bring meals over that have enough for leftovers,” advises Jackson. “And look for meals that are easy to prepare, store, and reheat.” You can even consider starting a meal train for your friend so that others can get involved, too.
5. Go Shopping For Her
Hitting the stores for leisurely window shopping might be a luxury for your friend right about now. So if she’s running low on supplies, have her make a list of things that she needs, and offer to pick them up for her. Hey, a Target run just might soothe your soul as well.
6. Pamper Her
Right about now, your friend is probably feeling pretty down in the dumps. So instead of focusing on how adorbs the baby is, try to make your friend feel fab again... even if it’s only temporary. Bring over a bath bomb and some yummy smelling body scrubs, and tell her to take a bath while you watch the baby. She’ll probably be grateful for the break — and you’ll get to score some snuggles with that beautiful baby.
7. Help Her Clean Up
It’s pretty amazing how fast the dishes can pile up when you have a baby at home. So ditch the mountain of laundry in your own home and offer to help your friend sort her whites from her darks instead. While laundry duty might not be the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, your friend will definitely appreciate it, and you’ll be able to soak in that heavenly newborn scent on the baby’s clothes.
8. Encourage Her To Get Help
Postpartum depression can be a slippery slope. If your friend is showing signs that she might need professional help, you should support her in her efforts to get it ASAP. “Encourage her to speak with someone that is trained to treat PPD/PPA,” advises Jackson. “If she says that she is thinking about hurting herself or baby, you should get her help immediately.” And above all, make sure that you remain non-judgmental on her road to recovery. “In order to be supportive of someone in your life with PPD, show support with whatever they need to do to be well,” says Jackson. “Don't question her use of therapy, or maybe medication, if that's what she needs.”
9. Do Some Research For Her
Your friend's focus might be fuzzy as she battles PPD. You can help her in specific areas she might be struggling with, like getting her baby to latch on well during breastfeeding, for example. You can look into mom support groups (especially those with moms who also might have PPD), online therapy groups, or meet ups at local parks and coffee shops so that she stays social and connected to other people.
10. Walk The Dog/Feed The Cat
Sure, it might seem simple, but even doing something as innocuous as walking the woofie might be a weight off of your friend’s shoulders. It’s one less thing she has to worry about, and can help her relieve some of things she’s responsible for.
Helping your friend who’s dealing with postpartum depression might feel like a daunting task. So help her in ways that may seem small, but can help reduce the strain she’s under as she journeys on a path to wellness once again.
Emily Souder, MA, MSW, LCSW-C, a licensed therapist in Maryland
Amy Jackson, LPC, a licensed professional counselor
Alena Gerst, an integrative psychotherapist in NYC