The postpartum period can be tough for any parent, even if they've had babies before. Given the prevalence of postpartum depression and numerous anecdotal accounts of new parents feeling isolated and overwhelmed, we should do all we can to help each other. Ten to 15 percent of women experience a postpartum mood disorder, which is the umbrella term for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis. This means that out of every ten new moms you know, likely, at least one of them is going to have a serious mental health struggle going on. It's important that women get help and support in those first few crucial weeks. As a society, we should be checking in with new moms, asking what they need, asking how they're feeling. Providing help, whether it's a chat on the phone, or a bit of domestic assistance, can mean the difference between a new mom feeling isolated and a new mom feeling supported in a period of transition.
Obviously, not every woman is going to be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, and not every woman wants the same kind of help. That's why it never hurts to ask what they need. Some want time alone with their baby, while others may want lots of visitors. But it doesn't hurt to ask what they need. In fact, I asked a bunch of women what help they got in those first few days and weeks that made a huge difference. And, of course, there were plenty more who had wished for more help.
The Invaluable Help They Needed
Christina, 35, Virginia:
"The most helpful thing we received from others was relief so we could nap. Meals were great, but actually being able to lay down in my bed and know the baby was taken care of was priceless."
Katie, 28, North Carolina:
"My mom paid for a maid. It was fantastic, especially the first couple of weeks! Meals are great, too. And the best of friends! [My best friend] came [from] two hours away to help and cooked for me (with her 6 month old [in tow]) because my husband had to leave on a business trip the week after my daughter was born."
Sarah, 35, California:
"Someone bought us preemie clothes and diapers because the twins came early. My college roommate came and stayed with us for a week after paternity care ended and cooked and changed diapers and helped feed [the] babies. It was amazing. Plus, since we'd lived together for so long, it was just super comfortable and not at all like having to entertain a guests."
Brandi, 33, New Jersey:
"My husband changed diapers at night and even took [on] a feeding once we had to moved to formula so I could sleep. Then my in-laws and family all took turns cooking dinners for us and watching the boys in the morning or afternoon so, again, I could rest and recover. It was really awesome having everyone's visits staggered so I only ever had one or two family members at the house at a time, and it all lasted a little over two weeks which was a huge help."
Kassidy, 30, Oklahoma:
"My mom came over every day for the first week (we live in the same town so, no biggie). The best was that first day when she and [my] dad showed up with sandwich stuff (two loaves of bread and multiple meats) and chips and baby carrots with ranch and Oreos. Complete and utter junk, but she knows me. She knows I would just want something I could grab and go.
"Plus, I am a huge snacker. I'd rather snack all day than eat a huge meal, which is a good habit to have during the newborn phase. You never know if you will get to sit for a whole meal before being needed again. Being able to grab a snack to hold you over until the next break makes a big difference."
Irena, 40, Rhode Island:
"My parents and brother came from overseas. My mom cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and watched our 5 year old. My dad mowed the lawn and fixed things around the house. My brother drove me around after my c-section. We had a baby in NICU/PICU for a month and were torn between being with a baby and being with our 5 year old. Our family gave us the best of gifts — peace of mind."
Katy, 33, Virginia:
"My friends organized meals, so we had meals for weeks after the baby was born. Even foods I don't normally like tasted amazing cooked by someone else."
Caitlin, 33, Vermont:
"My mother-in-law took our 4 year old for almost a week when the second was a week or so old. It was amazing how easy 'just' a newborn seemed! Plus, the older one got a needed dose of undivided attention."
Stephanie, 39, Oregon:
"With my first, he had a week long stay in the hospital mostly in the PICU. My uncle brought a cooler full of sandwich makings and that was wonderful to be able to use anytime."
Jessica, 36, Minnesota:
"My dad watched my daughter so I could go back to work at 7.5 weeks. I was working from home so I could still nurse her, but I was able to work in between."
Melissa, 34, Pennsylvania:
"My husband had to go out of town when my daughter was one month old, and I was still recovering from my c-section. My mom came and stayed with me for that week — she'd take the baby during the day in between feedings so I could nap or shower, she cleaned and did dishes, changed diapers. Basically I only had to eat, sleep, and nurse. It was lovely."
Delilah, 37, Georgia:
"One of my best friends brought her famous chocolate chip cookies while I was in the hospital after an unexpected c-section. I was so sick of hospital food, and that was the first thing I tasted that wasn't liquid."
The Help We Wish We'd Asked For:
Revell, 38, Pennsylvania:
"I wish we'd [asked] someone to mow our lawn or do yard work. That was the sort of thing that got pushed aside in those first few months when we were trying to find our rhythm in caring for a child who was medically complex. Or an offer to care for pets during the day or cover childcare and shuttling for older siblings.
"We typically left the house at 8:30 a.m., dropped my daughter at daycare, and stayed in NICU until 7 or 8 at night. That's a long time to be away from home."
Hailey, 25, Virginia:
"With our second, once we came home from the hospital that was pretty much all the help we got. I was 23 when I had her. She was a VBAC, so I recovered much more quickly, but I still wished that we'd had a postpartum doula or some extra support for at least a couple days, but we managed.
"We did have family that watched our daughter while we were in the hospital for about three-four days and they got our house ready. I [even] think [they] did some light shopping so we had some food to eat when we came home, but after we got home we jumped right into normal life with no extra support."
Sarah, 38, California:
"A friend of mine was given laundry service. They collected dirty clothes and delivered folded (or hung) clean clothes. I wish someone had done that for me."
Heather, 28, New South Wales, Australia:
"It was really great having people come over to help out. And I get that they wanted baby time, but I would've loved that time with [baby] rather than cleaning the house. If I'd had people drop off meals, wash a couple dishes, that kind of thing, it would've been a dream. So now I make sure that's what I do to help out with new [moms] I know."
Didi, 29, Texas:
"In general, I wish that I had known more about postpartum depression and that it was easier to get in to see a lactation consultant. I was overwhelmed enough by being a new mom without having to research all this. I'd encourage partners and grandparents get familiar with the resources out there."
Ashleigh, 34, Kentucky:
"There was an assumption (I guess) when I had my second that I was a pro and didn't need help, when, really, I needed more help. Having an active preschooler and a new baby was really hard. I didn't get a single meal delivered. And it still makes me feel sad."