Expecting mamas are bombarded with new, exciting things building up to the arrival of their baby — lots of sweet gifts, celebrations, showers, sonograms, nursery decorating and so much more. But after the excitement and anticipation wears off, new moms can quickly transition to feelings of sadness, exhaustion, lack of attachment and anxiety in the form of postpartum depression once their little one arrives. It can creep into every facet of a woman's life and cause her much confusion, guilt and helplessness as she tries to wrap her mind around these new and often scary emotions.
"There can be guilt mixed with helplessness and sometimes anger," says Jennifer Stock, licensed professional counselor of Seasons Counseling in Nashville. "It's completely overwhelming — sometimes these women feel like a monster and they can't understand what is wrong with them."
If you have a friend who is struggling with postpartum depression, don't sit back and let her suffer alone. The smallest gesture of love and kindness can go a long way when it comes to helping her sort through this tough time. If you're not sure how you can help, consider some of these ideas Stock suggests.
Be aware of the symptoms of PPD
"Every mother can become overwhelmed with the needs of a baby but when symptoms of crying, hopelessness, loss of interest, panic attacks and continuous insomnia occur, it's time to get help," Stock stresses. Don't be afraid to talk to your friend about her feelings and thoughts.
"If she reports having unwanted or dark thoughts about her baby or herself, no desire to bond with her newborn or struggling with anxiety, guilt or anger, tell her you will help her come up with a plan to get better."
Encourage her, don't judge her
"It can be hard for some people to understand why a woman wouldn't want to hold her baby, or gush over having such a wonderful addition to her family, but PPD is a real medical occurrence," Stock says.
Obviously, these feelings can be confusing and scary for new moms and can cause them to believe that they aren't good at being a mom or maybe not even meant to be a mom, so be sure to take every chance you get to lift her up and praise her for being an awesome mama.
Offer to babysit to give her time off
Stock says some new mothers are apprehensive about letting anyone watch their precious babies other than them, but that it's truly a gift to give parents some time away from the demanding needs of newborns.
"Reassure her that you will do all the things she expects and asks based on her opinions to care for her little one, and tell her that she isn't a bad mom for wanting a break and needing alone time," she says.
Schedule a yoga class, a walk or something else to relieve stress
Reminding us that we all can experience various levels of stress with any life change, Stock notes that welcoming a new baby to the family is no different.
"Self-care is so important and reducing stress with various relaxation options can help," she explains. "The point is to help your friend get out of the cycle of negative thinking and endless anxiety."
Suggest a support group with other moms
"Women need to know that they are not alone in their struggles!" Stock maintains. "It can be very helpful for your friend to realize she is not the only mom who has unwanted thoughts about her baby or about being a mother. It is a comfort to be able to share stories with someone who understands and has had similar experiences. It helps normalize her situation and can provide encouragement and an outlet for healing."
If she is not open to joining a support group, don't be afraid to urge your friend to seek another form of professional help. That may look like individual therapy sessions or simply making an appointment to speak with her obstetrician. In an emergency situation, please reference Postpartum Support International's information on 24/7 resources.