September 15, 2020
Your bestie just had a baby, you are over the moon for her and the little one is just the cutest. But, something seems…
She’s having trouble focusing on her conversations with you, she never seems to be hungry and she’s always tired. At first, you thought it was just sleepless nights and “mom brain” but now you’re worried it’s something more.
Sound familiar? Maybe it’s your wife, sister or a family friend who’s just had a baby. If this sounds a little close to home, she may be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder.
If you are a support person to a new mama you may be wondering how to best be there for them, especially if you are worried about their mental health.
We called on clinical psychologist, founder and director of A Bridge Home, Dr. Kira Bartlett to learn more about the signs to look for and helpful actions you can take to support your friend tactfully and with compassion.
It’s no secret that adding a member to your family is a massive change. The mother’s body, mind and way of life is affected. But for many women, and we’re talking an estimated 15-20% of women, they have an even rougher transition into motherhood. Those are the women that experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), the most well known of them being postpartum depression also known as PPD. PPD can disrupt a mom’s life in some very real and overwhelming ways.
There are massive hormone fluctuations after birth that can influence the onset of PPD symptoms. Some women are more susceptible to experience postpartum depression or a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder than others for reasons beyond hormones.
“There are a number of risk factors for PMADs. Women who have had a history of mental health issues, a history of loss such as a miscarriage, struggled with infertility or recently experienced a loss in their family are at an increased risk. Also, women who have undergone a major life transition, such as a job change or recent relocation are at risk as well…” — Dr. Bartlett
Breaking It Down
Ok, we’re getting into a lot of acronyms. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s break it down a bit further.
PMAD: The full range of distress…
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) encompass the full range of distress a woman may experience from pregnancy through the first year of postpartum. PMADs are distinguished from the “baby blues,” which are experienced by 80% of new mothers and are thought to be a normal and temporary reaction to the hormonal shifts that follow childbirth.
PPA: The other baby blues…
Postpartum anxiety disorder can be seen as a cousin to postpartum depression that affects 10% of new moms. PPA symptoms can manifest themselves in the form of worry for their babe whereas postpartum depression can cause mothers to experience sadness or even disinterest.
“Women with PPA will often relate extreme and frequent worries around the health and safety of the baby. They may experience shortness of breath, swirling thoughts, chest pain or dizziness.” — Dr. Bartlett
A New Way Forward
Sometimes, postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders can be difficult to notice. We’re moving in a direction of more dialogue but for a very long time these experiences were hush-hush and seen as shameful. Some mothers are still really good at hiding the symptoms and will even shrug it off when asked.
“Women find all kinds of excuses to avoid getting help, many of which are tied in up the unfortunate stigma of mental health issues and especially the challenge of feeling sad or anxious when one is “supposed” to be blissfully happy.” — Dr. Bartlett
If this friend in your life is a new mom, you don’t need to wait for her to tell you she thinks she has PPD, there are signs and symptoms you can look for so that you can show up for her in the best way possible.
There are a handful of online resources available for you to better understand what an expectant or new mama friend may be going through. Some top recommendations include:
- A Bridge Home
- Postpartum Support International (PSI) – They also have a helpline via text or phone.
- Postpartum Books by Karen Klieman
- MyNestwell Maternal Mental Health Specialists
What To Look For
Knowing if your expectant or new mom has experienced any of the symptoms mentioned below or any other trauma will help you be on the lookout when their babe arrives or if they’re already here.
There are many ways postpartum depression can appear, here are a few to keep an eye out for:
- Trouble Concentrating
- Lack of Interest in Usual Activities
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Extreme and frequent worries about the baby’s health and safety
- Shortness of breath
- Chest rain
- Unstoppable thoughts
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
Okay, so your friend checks several of those boxes…what now?
It can feel awkward to bring up your concerns and let’s be honest, she might take it the wrong way or get defensive. But, there are some ways you can go about it that come from a place of care and not judgement.
If you’re a mom (or not)…
It may be empowering and normalizing to share your experience with her. It can be something as simple as “the first few months were really hard for me, I remember how anxious I was after I had my baby.”
Sharing your experience can be a great way to open up a dialogue. If you aren’t a mama or you didn’t experience similar symptoms after birth, it could be as simple and straightforward as checking in and meaning it.
‘Just asking, “how are you doing, really?” is a way to signify you are interested in more than the standard answer of “I’m fine.”’
If you’re more of a doer than a talker…
There are many actionable ways you can lighten the load for expectant or new moms and give them time to rest. When it comes to offering help, you must be specific in how you can help them versus asking, “how can I help you?” Although this question is simple and good-natured, it can weigh a new mama down with even more decisions. When you’re clear in how you want to help them, they’re less likely to say no.
- Tell them you will drop off dinner on a designated night.
- Ask her if there is a time you can come help with laundry.
- Text her in the morning and ask what time you can come over to rock the baby while she showers or naps.
- Take the baby on an early morning walk or run in the stroller to let her get extra sleep.
- Pick up groceries and stock her fridge with easy/premade meals.
- Pick up her other kiddos (if she has them!) for a special playdate to lighten the load.
- Take her dog for a walk.
- Give her a meal delivery service gift card
- Offer to babysit to give the parents a date night or give her time for a mani-pedi.
- Go over and hang out for a few hours and be on diaper duty.
- Give her a gift card for some pampering and a sitter (or lend a helping hand!) to watch the baby.
Some mamas are less willing to accept help than others and for some it can make them feel uncomfortable. If you frame it as paying it forward since so many people helped you with your baby or that YOU just need some baby cuddles it may put them at ease a bit more.
If It’s a Hard No
You may hear all kinds of excuses before a hard “stop asking me how I’m doing,” response. Before you go the never-bring-it-up-again route, it can be helpful to remind your mama of the statistics mentioned earlier so they realize how common these experiences actually are.
Don’t Carry All the Weight
All of this being said, don’t feel the need to carry the weight of this by yourself. There are so many amazing resources now available to help. You as the partner, best friend or family member are the one who can listen and offer a helping hand. Alternatively, rallying additional people in her close circle to help out and educate them on a new mom’s needs can be beneficial to everyone involved.
And at times, the most supportive thing you can do may be introducing them to resources that can help them better than you can.
That’s where we come in.
Our network of maternal wellness experts specialize in helping women through these sometimes difficult periods of the mamahood journey. Our maternal mental health specialists are there when mamas need them most. Looking there is a great place to start. Or you can do a quick search on therapists here and read bios from different providers, filter by specialty and find one that suits their needs. By lowering the barrier to finding care for them, it can make them more likely to seek help while getting the right kind of attention.
The fact that you’re reading this article means you are taking that first step to finding them the help they need. The mamas in your life are lucky to have you!