Postpartum depression can affect women after the birth of a baby. Here’s what to say and not say to your loved one.
A new baby usually brings much joy and happiness. But sometimes the increased stress of a new baby in addition to hormone fluctuations and changes to a woman’s body can bring about sadness, depression, anxiety or a sense of helplessness in the new mom.
Sometimes the new mom realizes these changes. Sometimes not. That’s when it’s up to her loved ones to support her and get her the help she needs.
Rebecca Siegel, Ph.D., clinical psychologist with Norton Women’s Mental Health Services, shares insight into postpartum depression and how you — as a friend, sister, mother, colleague or partner — can support someone who might be experiencing it.
First, the signs:
- Sadness and frequent crying
- Loss of interest in doing things she used to enjoy
- Difficulty sleeping, even when the baby is sleeping
- Or sleeping too much/difficulty getting out of bed
- Difficulty concentrating or having trouble making decisions
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Trouble functioning, doing things for either herself or the baby
- Trouble attaching to or responding to the baby
For some women, it is easy to pass these signs off as “baby blues,” which occurs in the majority of women after delivering a baby. Dr. Siegel explains that the primary difference between baby blues and postpartum depression centers on the duration and severity of the signs.
“As much as 20 percent of women will experience some form of postpartum depression, and this percentage is even higher when other mood and anxiety disorders are considered,” Dr. Siegel said. “A new mom may experience any or all of these symptoms and they may gradually increase in the days, even months, after the birth of her baby.”
Anxiety also can be a concern. Anxiety may take the form of worry or fear of harm coming to the baby, or fear the mother may harm the baby herself either accidentally or on purpose.
If you sense that a new mom is struggling or you are starting to see behavior that doesn’t seem “normal,” start by listening and empathizing with her.
Things you shouldn’t say:
- It’s just baby blues; all new moms feel that way
- You just need a massage
- Stop worrying
- You’re baby is healthy — you should be happy!
- Everything will be fine
“You never want to express to a woman going through any type of depression or mood disorder that this is just all in their head,” Dr. Siegel said. “Depression and anxiety are difficult to understand, especially for someone who hasn’t dealt with it personally. But you never want to minimize the feelings she is having.”
Here are a few recommendations from Dr. Siegel on how you can help:
Listen: Women want to feel supported and like they are not alone. The symptoms they are experiencing often will cause them to isolate themselves from others. Try to get her to open up.
Empathize: If you’ve never experienced postpartum depression, you might feel you can’t begin to understand what she’s going through. However, you don’t have to travel her path to empathize with her. You can do this by putting aside your opinions, listening objectively and validating her feelings.
Ask questions: Ask questions about how she feels. Often the first thing women need and want is someone to talk to them while at the same time listening.
Reassure her: Let her know how well she’s doing taking care of the baby and that you’ll get through this together.
Give her some alone time: Offer to watch the baby while she does something for herself, such as taking a nap or getting some exercise. Better yet, develop a schedule that allows her to plan for some “me time” so that she doesn’t have to ask for time away.
Know when to seek help: The first step to getting care should be the new mom’s OB/GYN. He or she can identify what is going on and if further treatment or a specialist is needed. If a situation arises and you feel the mom could harm herself or the baby, always seek emergency intervention, which could include calling 911.
Norton Women’s Mental Health Services cares for women with postpartum depression as well as other mental health needs. For more information, call (502) 899-6220 or visit NortonHealthcare.com/WomensCounseling.