The American Psychological Association estimates that 9-16 percent of new moms will experience postpartum depression (PPD). That makes it a fairly strong possibility that someone in your life is struggling or will struggle with the condition.
PPD leaves women feeling guilty, overwhelmed, helpless, and often numb. It is a scary and isolating experience that many women would rather deny, fearing being judged or regarded as a “bad mom.”
Whether moms suffering from PPD acknowledge it or not, what they need the most is love and support. Here are 22 ways you can help support a woman suffering from postpartum depression:
1. Accept that she will not get better overnight.
Although she will recover, especially with your support and encouragement, this recovery will be gradual.
Remember that PPD is an actual form of depression, so telling her to “cheer up,” or “get over it” is not helpful and will likely be upsetting. Validate her feelings instead of suggesting that it’s just her hormones or she’s probably just tired, and settle in for a long process.
2. Don’t downplay what she is feeling.
Also make sure not to imply that she is exaggerating her feelings in any way, including making remarks like, “You seem fine to me.”
It is typical for women with postpartum depression to mask their emotions and pretend to be the delighted, glowing mother that others expect. However, this does not mean that everything is fine or that she is capable of turning off her feelings of depression.
3. Take the baby off of her hands.
Women with postpartum depression need the opportunity to spend some time away from baby. Remind her that a mom cannot be at her best if she is not able to relax and recharge from time to time.
Encourage her to go out for drinks, dinner, or a movie with friends. Baby-free time spent bonding and having fun with friends can be tremendously helpful for women grappling with PPD.
4. Draw her a warm bath.
It’s important for women with postpartum depression—and all new moms—to find time to care for themselves rather than constantly fretting about caring for everyone else.
The ability to relax and occasionally feel pampered is essential. So draw a warm bath and sit with the baby while she enjoys a soothing soak in the tub. Light some candles, pour a glass of wine, or play some of her favorite music.
You don’t always have to say anything or begin rattling off advice. Just listen.
It’s very difficult for women to open up about postpartum depression, so if she trusts you enough to share her experience, listen with understanding and zero judgement.
6. Remind her that she’s not alone.
For a woman suffering from postpartum depression, a reminder that she’s not alone or crazy can be helpful.
Encourage her to talk honestly with other moms about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, forming a network of support and understanding.
7. Provide helpful resources.
Depending on how she will interpret the gesture, you can purchase or recommend books that discuss postpartum depression.
Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields is one book many women find helpful. Many women, including actress Bryce Dallas Howard, credit Shields’ candid account of PPD with helping them recover.
8. Let her sleep.
If the woman with PPD in your life is your spouse or partner, try getting up with the baby at night so she can rest.
Otherwise, you can volunteer to come spend some time with the baby while she catches up on sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major factor in worsening the effects of postpartum depression, so providing time for her to snooze peacefully can make a meaningful difference.
9. Help her get some exercise.
Exercise can be extremely beneficial to women suffering from postpartum depression, but don’t be too pushy in recommending it.
Try suggesting that you go for a walk or jog together, or even make this a daily or weekly routine. Simply moving and getting some endorphins flowing can help tremendously.
10. Cook nutritious meals.
Like exercise, a nutrition rich diet can help a woman with PPD feel much better. It’s easy for moms, and especially moms suffering from postpartum depression, to fill up on quick, convenient junk food or even forget to eat.
Prepare some delicious, healthy meals for her. This will take care of an item on her to-do list and provide her with a nutritious boost.
11. Encourage and appreciate her.
Severe feelings of inadequacy are a symptom of postpartum depression.
Let her know that she is doing a great job and is a fantastic mother. Compliment her on the qualities that you love or admire in her, and remind her that she is appreciated and valuable.
12. Schedule a massage or manicure/pedicure for her.
Self-care is vital for women with postpartum depression, and taking some time out for a massage or a mani/pedi can help her spirits soar, even if it’s not a permanent fix.
Plus, the fact that you took the time to schedule an appointment for her will make her feel cared for and loved.
13. Give her space if she needs it.
Sometimes, a woman with PPD simply needs space, and even the most well-meaning advice and care can leave her feeling smothered.
If you sense that she needs space, and especially if she voices that she would like to be left alone, honor that need without taking it personally.
14. Be available.
Postpartum depression is a 24/7 battle.
Being willing to pick up a 3:00 AM phone call to reassure and comfort your friend suffering from PPD can be extremely meaningful and helpful. Tell her that you are there for her and mean it.
15. Tell her it’s okay to seek help.
Many women affected by postpartum depression need professional help to make a full recovery. Let her know that it’s not only okay, but a sign of strength to seek the help she needs.
Finding a therapist may be an overwhelming task, so find some phone numbers or call doctors for her. Be willing to drive her to the appointments if that’s what it will take to get her to someone who can help.
16. Do some research.
Find information about postpartum depression so that you can better understand what she is going through and what to expect. Take time to learn about the symptoms and impact of PPD so you can recognize when she is struggling.
Making the effort to get informed about her experience shows a tremendous amount of care and love.
17. Find a support group for her.
You don’t have to push her to join a support group or post on message boards, but consider finding a local support group or even a Facebook page for women with PPD.
Sharing experiences, reading the stories of others, and receiving more confirmation that she is not suffering alone can be an important step toward recovery.
18. Check on her.
Once you know that someone you care about is struggling with PPD, take the time to check on them. Don’t simply assume that she is okay, but make occasional phone calls or visits to ask about her well-being.
This is a simple and easy step you can take to help her feel supported and let her know that people care and are willing to help.
19. Help her feel positive about treatment options.
Whether it’s therapy or medication, many women are resistant to treatment options for postpartum depression. Tell her how brave she is for asking for the help she needs, and remind her that whatever she needs to do to get better is worth it for both her and her baby.
20. Be careful when handling issues or disagreements.
This one is especially true if your loved one with PPD is your partner or spouse. Sometimes issues or disagreements must be discussed in a relationship, and it is not helpful or advisable to brush them under the rug.
For a vulnerable woman with PPD, the slightest criticism can be highly painful. Try to use “I” statements instead of “you” by focusing on how her actions make you feel.
21. Love her.
More than anything, let her know that she is loved through both your words and your actions.
She won’t always be pleasant during this time, so do your best to be understanding and patient. Show her that your feelings toward her—whether she is your partner or your friend—have not changed as a result of her PPD, and that your love for her is truly unconditional.
22. Ask her what she needs.
Every woman is different, and postpartum depression comes in many forms. Ask her what she needs from you or how you can help. Offer to take care of household chores, errands, or anything else she suggests.
Asking what she needs will help her feel heard and understood. For a woman with postpartum depression, that can mean everything.