Depression before, during and after pregnancy is all too common. Whether you have longed for a child for years or you’ve been through it all before, depression can hit at any time. Sometimes it is expected because the mother has a history of mental illness, and other times it comes out of left field and turns her whole world upside down.
There are various types of pregnancy-related depressions out there. Any one of them can hit at any time.
Antenatal Depression – Also known as Prenatal depression, this is a form of clinical depression that can affect a woman during pregnancy. It can be a precursor to postpartum depression if not properly treated. An estimated 7% to 20% percent of pregnant women are affected by this condition.
Postpartum Depression – PPD, also called postnatal depression, is a type of mood disorder associated with childbirth which can affect both sexes. Symptoms may include extreme sadness, low energy, anxiety, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, crying episodes, and irritability.
Postpartum psychosis – This is a rare psychiatric emergency in which symptoms of high mood and racing thoughts (mania), depression, severe confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions set in, beginning suddenly in the first two weeks after childbirth.
There are also various types of pregnancy-related mental illnesses related to anxiety, OCD and PTSD.
When any of these illnesses or disorders strike, the mother in question needs love and support from those nearest and dearest to her. But all too often, she is met with judgment or well-meaning advice from those who should really just keep their mouths shut.
Here are some practical dos and don’ts to help you offer constructive support to the mom in need.
Things Not to Say to A Mom Battling Depression
“But you’ve always wanted a baby. Why aren’t you happy?”
“How can you be sad when you see that little face who loves you so much?”
“Why did you have a baby if you’re just going to complain and be miserable?”
“Everyone has bad days. You just have to push through it.”
“Happiness is a choice. Just refuse to be depressed.”
“But your baby is X months old. You should be over it by now.”
“Maybe you should have breastfed/bottle fed instead?”
“It’s probably just the baby blues. Everyone gets them. You’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
“Just have a glass of wine, and it’ll be okay.”
“But you only have ONE baby. Imagine how bad I have it with three!”
“Well I had PPD, and I managed to get through it without drugs. You have to just make the decision to be happy.”
“I solved my PPD with essential oils and crystals!”
“There’s no such thing as antenatal depression. You’re just scared of what’s to come.”
“God never gives us more than we can handle. Turn to him and all will be fine.”
“Count your blessings. Others have it so much worse.”
“You’re probably just tired. Nap when the baby naps.”
“You probably just need to get outside. Fresh air and sunshine will solve anything.”
“Be grateful. Some people can’t even have kids!”
“It can’t possibly be that bad.”
If you’ve never experienced pregnancy-related depression or been exposed to it, then you may not realize quite how debilitating it can be. While some women do manage to get through it with time and a positive attitude, many others need medication, therapy and a long recovery period. If you’re truly interested in helping them out, try some of these suggestions instead.
What You Can Do For A Mom Battling Depression
Offer to take things off her hands. Sometimes moms don’t have the time or energy to keep their house clean when they’re dealing with a new baby. They may struggle to take care of their family or home. Check your schedule and offer concrete times you can be available to help with the everyday tasks at hand.
“I’ve got an hour free at lunch on Mondays and Thursdays. I’ll come over and watch your kids while you go and have a bath.”
“I’m going to make you some freezer meals this weekend, and I’ll drop them by on Monday after work. You can just pop them in the oven whenever you need them.”
“I can watch your son on Tuesday so you can run errands. Or I can run errands with you if you’d like.”
It’s not enough to say, “Call me if you need anything,” to a new mom, as more than likely she won’t do it. She doesn’t want to be a bother, and her depression may even be convincing her that no one really wants to help her. Instead, let her know exactly what you are willing to do and when.
Offer her support and understanding. So many times a depressed mom will be ashamed of how she feels and is unable to talk about it. She may be afraid of judgment, or she may just feel that she’s being selfish. It is urgent to remind her of the importance of self care.
“I’m so sorry you are having to go through this. Please know I am more than willing to listen if you need to talk about it.”
“I have been where you are, and it is not easy. But I can help you find resources than can help.”
“You are a great mom, and I am here to help you get through this. Go take a bath and I’ll stay and help with the kids. Just take your time. We can talk when you’re ready.”
Refrain from pushing her in any one direction. She may not be ready to go to a doctor or talk with anyone. Just be there for her in whatever way she needs in that moment. Check on her as regularly as you can and remember to take your cues from her.
Give her positive reinforcement. Whether she chooses to battle alone or she accepts professional help, let her know she’s doing the right thing. Even if her plan of action changes from one moment to the next, be there to remind her she’s doing a great job.
“If you think anti-depressants are the way to go, I’m totally on board. You and your doctor are the only ones who can decide.”
“I totally understand that you don’t want to talk about it. I’m here as a cheerleader and not as a player in the game. You do you.”
“Only you can decide what you want to do, but if you want to spitball with me, I’m down. I’ll even help you make pro/con lists!”
By letting her know you back her decisions, you will help her to feel stronger and more supported. If she feels strong in one decision, each one will become easier. And knowing she has a friend she can count on will help her in more ways than you can imagine.
There is no one right way to show love and support to a mom struggling with depression. But there are so many wrong ways, and it’s important to remind yourself to always be supportive. Think before you speak, and always take guidance from the person you are trying to help. What might make you feel better may not make her feel better. Listen first, talk second. And if you feel you’re out of your league, then try to help her find someone else who can be there for her when you can’t.