I hate to admit it, but I've come to expect giving birth and taking care of a newborn to take a toll on me emotionally. The birth of my first child brought with it mood swings and an intense anxiety over my struggle to breastfeed. My second birth was still followed by a season of depression even though the birth itself and breastfeeding were much easier.
When my third child arrived, I adjusted to new motherhood with ease and hoped that this time would be different. For months, I felt great. I felt a peace I hadn’t felt with my other two kids. Unfortunately, about five months into postpartum, I got some bad news about a family member’s health and my depression was back and it was worse than ever. Since then, coping with postpartum depression hasn’t been a one solution fix. I’ve had to see my doctor, start up a medication again, make appointments for therapy and get serious about making time for self-care.
Perhaps one of the most important things I changed since my new diagnosis has been learning to turn to my friends and family over and over again as I struggle through learning how to care for my three kids and embrace the endless ways my life has changed since becoming a mom. During postpartum life, especially if it is marked by depression or anxiety, good friends are invaluable.
If you’re a friend of a mom dealing with postpartum depression, these are the six things you can do to help.
We Need to Know We're Not Alone
Talking about mental illness isn’t easy and postpartum depression seems to come with extra guilt because having a new baby should be the happiest time of our lives. Still, there's something about knowing you’re not the only one living your experience that make surviving depression manageable. Simply knowing that other moms have been through postpartum depression and made it past that season of life can be a game-changer.
“The absolute best thing at that time was hearing from other women that they went through it, too. I was sitting here feeling like the shittiest mother on earth, and when a woman who had older kids said ‘Hey, I've been there,’ it helped me to see some hope in the future.” - Jeanne S.
We Need to Know You'll Answer When We Call
Depression and anxiety warps the way you see the world. Even normal responsibilities can feel like too much. Finding childcare for doctor’s appointments or getting to the grocery store with a newborn in tow may seem like an impossible task. So, simply knowing she’s got a few people who will pick up when she calls or rearrange plans to help her out can make a big difference to a struggling mom.
“The most selfless thing a friend has ever done for me was the day I was diagnosed with PPD. I needed to go to the doctor and had no one to watch my baby. A friend dropped everything in the middle of the day in the middle of the week and showed up on my doorstep. I'll never forget it.” - Erin H.
Moms who are dealing with depression need someone to talk to, an empathetic friends who won’t judge them for being honest about how they are feeling.
We Need to Know You're Thinking of Us
Being a new mom can feel so isolating, especially when you’re a first-time mom who isn’t used to staying home from work every day, and moms with depression can have a hard time reaching out if we’re feeling lonely or need to talk. One way to be a good friend to someone with postpartum depression is to check in on a regular basis.
“A friend would check in every night at 7 p.m. via WhatsApp (she knew that I'd be nursing at that time) to make sure I was OK. She'd asked simple questions, like if I had done anything fun that day or eaten anything yummy.” - Pooja M.
We Need Understanding
Since there's so much stigma surrounding mental illness, it's easy to feel like we’re being judged for struggling to enjoy motherhood. Moms who are dealing with depression need someone to talk to, an empathetic friends who won’t judge them for being honest about how they are feeling.
“I was the first of my friends to have a baby, and no one seemed to understand that it's not all (or even mostly) fun and snuggles. I really needed friends to make space for me to share my suffering without turning right to ‘Isn't it wonderful?’” - Kelly B.
We Need Permission to Ask for Space
During my most difficult days, I didn’t want to get out much. I needed space to process what I was going through, to sort through all of my complicated feelings about being a new mom. If you’re the friend of a new mom and she asks for space, respect that. Make sure she is doing OK, but don’t take it personally if she turns down an invitation to get out of the house or asks visitors to stay away.
“When I was suffering from PPD, after having had my third consecutive miscarriage, I had a friend with a baby the age my first angel would have been. She knew I was struggling, knew that I needed some space to grieve, but also wanted to acknowledge my pain. My friend kindly left a care package at my door, with homemade bone broth, applesauce, and a bouquet of wildflowers. I appreciated the fact that she respected my need for space while letting me know she was there for me.” - Lauren S.
We Need to Hear the Truth
Postpartum depression looks different for everyone. While many moms may never think about hurting themselves, others may experience thoughts of self harm before they begin treatment and some will act on those thoughts. If you’re truly worried about the safety of a new mom in your life, please speak up. More than anything, moms dealing with depression need people in their life who will do the hard thing when it matters the most. That could be as simple as expressing your concern to a friend or as challenging and scary as driving her to the emergency if you’re not sure she’s safe at home alone.