Postpartum depression refers to the deep feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair that women may experience in the first year after giving birth. While professional help is important, family support is essential to enable the woman to recover.
Family Support and Postpartum Depression
If a new mother is feeling down and as though she cannot cope, family members should encourage her to seek a diagnosis. In some cases, it may be helpful to book an appointment with her doctor and accompany her on the visit. Recognizing postpartum depression is the first step towards healing and should not be disregarded as unnecessary. In certain circumstances the mother may need a course of antidepressants to help her through the recovery process.
Family Help During Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression occurs at different levels and some women need more help than others. Family members should look for opportunities to show their support while not interfering with what the new mother is able and willing to do. Practical ideas include the following:
- Find out as much as possible about postpartum depression. Borrow books from the library and gain an understanding of what the woman is going through.
- Childbirth is exhausting and a woman may be physically and emotionally drained by the experience. This can worsen postpartum depression. Family members can help by arranging to look after the baby while the mother sleeps. Allow her to feed the baby first and reassure her that if the infant becomes distressed, she will be called.
- Husbands and close family are often happy to take on night feeds for a period of time. Don’t try and force this on a mother, but offer to do so or get up and sit with her during a night feed.
- Call on the family network to cook meals and stock the new mother’s freezer. Not having to worry about cooking while struggling with depression can be a great relief.
- Suggest that she take a vitamin supplement for new mothers and if she is on prescribed medication, remind her to take it.
- Take mother and baby on a short trip to a favourite coffee shop or scenic area. A sense of the old and familiar can be comforting and will help bring stability back into her life.
- Encourage her to set up new routines or work with her to do this. Try and incorporate a daily walk or mild exercise as well as periods of free time where she can read a book or relax.
Husbands may need encouraging as well. Be sensitive to his moods and frame of mind as he watches his wife suffering.
Postpartum Depression and What Families Should not Do
Family members are often concerned and want to help when a new mother is suffering from postpartum depression. In their eagerness, they may actually cause further problems by being overbearing or insensitive. Here are some tips of what not to do when offering support:
- Guilt often accompanies postpartum depression. Don’t make this worse by making suggestions that the woman should have exercised more during pregnancy or that her diet was lacking in some way. Never make her feel weak or that she is responsible for the depression.
- Don’t intrude unless it is obvious she needs urgent assistance or care . Offer to help in specific areas and if she declines, try something else or do something behind the scenes such as stocking the grocery cupboard.
- Never comment negatively on a woman’s shape or behavior after childbirth. This is never helpful and can cause the depression to worsen.
Family support and postpartum depression are inextricably linked when looking for the best solution. Each case is unique and family members should tread carefully while ensuring that they offer as much support as possible.