One in 7 women will suffer from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, making it the most common complication of childbirth. Chances are that if you know a new mother, you likely know someone who is experiencing a PMAD right now.
A struggling family often needs help… but, it can sometimes be hard for ask directly for that help. And, it's sometimes challenging to know exactly how you can provide support in a way that they need.
So, what can you do? Emerald Doula, Carrie Banks, offers up a few of her top ideas:
Ask the new mother or birthing partner how they are really doing and really listen. Ask them about their birth and resist the urge to compare: your own birth, your cousin’s birth, your other friend’s birth, etc. The only birth that matters right now, in this moment, is the person sitting in front of you. She may need to talk about it so she can process her experience. Ask her how she is feeling and validate those feelings, without judgement in any way.
Let the family know that they are not alone. Tell the mother that this is not her fault and that with treatment, she will be well again. She may feel like she will never be happy again… may never be herself again. Assure her that she is going to be okay. Tell her that help is available and help her find it.
Anyone struggling with a new baby knows that life can be difficult. The addition of anxiety or depression can make the postpartum period even more difficult. Sleep is extremely important for the recovery of people with anxiety and depression.
You could offer to watch her baby or older children while she naps during the day. Or you could give a new parent the entire night off while you take the night shift with their newborn. A minimum of six hours of continuous sleep is prescribed by most practitioners, and providing relief for an overnight shift would be a very real way to support the new parent's recovery.
Depression and anxiety of any kind can make small tasks seem monumental. Adding a newborn into the mix can make the walls feel like they're falling in on you. So, help around the house is always appreciated. Bring some meals for the freezer, offer to stop at the grocery store on your way over, bring by a gift card to a nearby restaurant. Some local places even specialize in pre-prepped, ready-to-eat family meals for a week (which are a great gift for any new family, not just those experiencing a PMAD.). Assemble healthy snacks or cut up fruit and put it away in their fridge. And more importantly, encourage her to eat often, as drops in blood sugar can cause irritability and increase anxiety.
Indecisiveness is often a symptom of perinatal mood disorders, so if you ask her what you can do to help the parents may say, “nothing” or “I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s best to just do what needs to be done. Help with housework by taking out the trash or walking the dog. Simply ask permission so that you don’t stumble upon a trigger. For example, some women don’t want anyone else to clean their pump parts or bottles.
Stay with her
A struggling mother may begin to isolate herself. Let her know that you are there for her, but don’t leave it at, “Let me know if you need anything.” Call her often to leave messages. Text and email her words of support. Offer to come over and watch a movie with her, telling her that you would love to spend some quality time with her. Don’t take it personally if she does not respond. She is overwhelmed, but your messages will be appreciated and as she recovers she will begin to reconnect.
Families going through perinatal mood and anxiety disorders face many challenges. Your love and attention can help them recover. If you or someone you know is struggling please reach out for help.