How to help a friend who is suffering from PPD … or simply needs a break from the trenches

04/12/2011 at 3:00 pm | Posted in PPD | 12 Comments
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I talk a lot on this blog about postpartum depression and the resources available to new moms who might be suffering.

But I need to do better.

A recent email from a friend really opened my eyes. One of her friends recently gave birth and was diagnosed with postpartum depression. What I love about the particular friend who wrote me is that she wanted to be proactive. She wanted to know what really helped me during those dark days … what can she really do for her pal?

It got my wheels spinning. And made me realize there are probably a lot of people in her shoes, wanting to help friends, but not sure how to do it.

So here’s my attempt at a few ideas. Please (PLEASE) if you have others you’d like to share, add them to the list via the comments section. The more information we put out into the universe, the more women might benefit.

Here goes:

– The first thing I always do when a friend seems to be suffering is suggest that she talk to her doctor. It took me nine weeks to work up the courage to make this sort of appointment with my OB. No labs, no exam. Just her and me, sitting in her office. Me: talking and crying. Her: listening and helping. It was from that point forward that I had the capacity to put together a treatment plan. I really believe that I started to heal the moment I set foot in her office.

Don’t be afraid to call. Really! Being a new mom is so isolating. I craved any sort of contact with the outside world. But I was too afraid to leave my home. And, I’ll be honest, I screened calls. I was ashamed and scared. BUT when I heard the voices of my friends and family who had left messages (or kept calling until I picked up), I felt worlds better. Worlds. If you’re afraid of the ringing phone waking the baby, don’t be. I kept my mobile on vibrate, so it was never an issue. And a number of my momma friends intentionally keep their ringers turned on to acclimate their babies to normal household sounds. Your call will not wake the baby. What it will do is help your friend feel loved and cared for. Even if she doesn’t answer.

Same goes for visiting. After you and your pal agree on a time to visit, make her an offer she can’t refuse: “I’ll come over and hold the baby for an hour so you can ___________.” Take a shower. Eat a meal. Nap. Vacuum. Whatever she wants. This lets her off the hook for feeling the need to entertain or keep you company and also lets her know that you mean business: you really want to help. If it’s company that she craves, that’s great. Just give her another option. And make plans to come back.

– Another idea for a visit: invite your friend to be part of the process of cooking a meal. This might sound weird, but it creates normalcy for a new mom who otherwise feels like her world has been turned inside out. When Small Fry was a newborn, my sister and her sister-in-law came over to the house with all the fixings for waffles, bacon and fruit. Breakfast for dinner: score! But the best part of the meal was sitting with them in the kitchen, chatting  and cutting up strawberries. We’d take turns holding Small Fry (who usually refused to be put down), prepping and cooking. I felt so NORMAL. It was hugely refreshing. And fun.

– If the weather permits, encourage your friend to get outside and take walks. Come over and join her for an hour. Push the stroller so she can remember what it feels like not to have another human being or piece of gear attached to her body. Getting outside was a big part of my recovery. I remember my first walk after Small Fry was born. I was so paralyzed with fear and so utterly exhausted, I couldn’t imagine setting foot outside the house. But Laura encouraged me. So we bundled up the baby and walked maybe three blocks. It was like a jolt of electricity. The air felt amazing in my lungs. The sun bathed my face. I didn’t last long away from my comfort zone, but it was a critical first step to countless other walks that not only helped save my mental health, but also brought back my pre-baby body.

Okay. My pregnant brain is maxed out.

What else would you add to this list? Even if you didn’t experience a postpartum mood disorder, what did you find most helpful from your friends when you were in the trenches? Or, tell us something you did for a new momma friend that put a smile on her face.

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12 Comments »

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  1. great ideas! i would say don’t ask what she needs or how you can help. JUST DO SOMETHING! She needs help with everything. Really. Love the idea of getting out for a walk.

    Offer to do her grocery shopping… sometimes public places like that can be overwhelming.

  2. This is a really great, positive list. I would add that new moms should never allow themselves to feel obligated to entertain when the new baby arrives. All those friends and family are visiting to see the baby – use that time to go upstairs and take a nap!

  3. Awesome article! I suffered from postpartum anxiety and what really helped me was some company in the house, just someone to talk to about anything. This had to be a good friend that I didn’t feel like I had to entertain. Just someone else in the house besides me and my baby was incredibly helpful!

  4. This is such an amazing post! I agree with the previous comment, meds didnt help me after my second son was born, but my best friend was there for me, constantly.
    I think compassionate acts to reach out to the new mom can make such a difference, things like dropping off a ready to bake meal, or watching siblings during the babies doctors appointments.

  5. Well said, Suzanne! For mothers w/a new baby and a toddler, consider having the friend; a) take the toddler on a fun outing or; b) keep the infant so the new mom can spend some time w/just the toddler. I have been the giver and the recipient of both, and it helps 🙂

  6. I didn’t really have PPD, but had a rough time during the first few months with my firstborn. Your list is terrific.

    One addition: if you’re going to the store or have time while you’re out running errands, call your friend to see if she needs anything. One of my dear friends (who was child-free at the time) actually went to Motherhood Maternity and got a nursing bra for me on her way home from work. I would never have called her to ask, but she offered and it was close to her office — totally saved me.

  7. Another great help I got from a friend (if you’re nursing)… she went with me to the mall, just as a place to get out of the house. Then she helped me find places that had somewhere nice to nurse, like a dept store with a “lounge” area outside the ladies room. Helped me feel less afraid about leaving the house with my new baby who liked to nurse every hour or two.

  8. This is so great! I love that you said to offer to come over and hold the baby. More than anything I needed someone I could trust to just hold the baby for a little bit. She never wanted to be put down and there were times I really needed a break but I felt guilty and weird asking someone to just come over and hold the baby so that I could do something else. I got lots of people asking to run errands for me or bring over dinner but I would have loved it if someone said, “I am coming over to hold her so that you can do something else for a bit.”

  9. Fantastic list Sis! As someone who doesn’t like to ask for help, I really appreciated those people that just did it for me. I remember you folded my laundry without asking, new mom friends in the neighborhood came by with food & if I didn’t answer the door, they’d leave it and text me that it was there, & Mom came over so I could get outside and garden with Dad. Another great thing, as a first-time mom, a friend brought their 5 month old over for a visit…it reminded me as I held 6-week baby O, that she eventually would grow and sit up on my hip and sleep!

  10. I agree with just helping… picking up something at the store, watching baby while mom takes a nap, etc. I also don’t like to ask for help so just doing something for me will help me more than telling me to “ask if I need anything.”

    Also remember that everyone is different: listen to your friend and feed of her cues. What is helpful to one person isn’t necessarily the same for another. For example, the phone and I were not friends when I had PPD with a newborn who refused to sleep (read: ringing phone = waking baby). So I really appreciated the emails checking in on me during that time.

    • You’re so right about the phone! Been re-thinking that since I hit publish. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the list!

  11. There are so many ways a friend can help! I know I really struggled those first few weeks at home, and I ended up in tears almost daily.

    Encourage the friend to ask for what she needs! I was too embarrassed to ask for help. I felt like it was a sign of weakness that I couldn’t handle the baby, the home, and myself, and I didn’t want to burden others. But most people genuinely want to help…they just need direction. If I had be more forthcoming with asking for what I needed (especially when it was offered), I would have fared much better in my post-partum recovery both physically and mentally.

    Also, I wish that my friends who already had babies would have talked with me honestly about the feelings/emotions of bringing a new baby home. I was completely blind-sided by my emotions…feeling sad, burdened at times, etc, etc. I had so much guilt about my feelings and thought I was a terrible mom for having those feelings. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I admitted to some of my mommy friends how I’d been feeling that they, too, said they had those feelings. I make sure that my friends who are having their first babies know whatever they feel is normal when they come home, and I share a bit about my struggle at first. I, in no way, want to assume they’ll have the same experience as I did, but I feel it important to talk openly about the not-so-pleasant things to normalize it.

    HOLD THE BABY! It was so tough going from being able to do whatever I needed for myself and the house to having a baby attached to me at all times (for breastfeeding or just wanting to be held). It made me feel ‘normal’ when I could vacuum or clean up the kitchen or do some laundry while the baby was being held. Also, it was nice when someone would hold the baby so I could eat a meal and enjoy.


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