Though you may not hear anyone say it, postpartum mood disorders like depression or anxiety are the most common complication of childbirth. Offering to come and hold the baby, while romantic and appealing in that diaper-commercial sense, doesn’t always cut it when a mama needs real help. Here are some practical, effective things that you can do for depressed or anxious mamas – and how to do them in a way that doesn’t cause mama more stress.
Time It Right
Scheduling and decision-making is extraordinarily difficult for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety. A postpartum mama doesn’t always have the capacity to pick a day and time out of your schedule when she’s focused on feeding and naptimes. Offer two or three times at most, preferably on the same day. “I can come at noon or at 3, which would you like?” Then stick to it. Be punctual; no more than five minutes early or late.
Feather The Nest
Bringing diapers, wipes, or other baby supplies can be helpful, but make sure you’re supplying the brand and sizes baby actually needs. Some babies can be very sensitive to products, and a fussy, rashy baby will definitely frustrate an already distressed mama. And supplies may not even be needed; extras can clutter up limited space, causing more anxiety. Ask if baby needs anything, and if so, what brands and sizes. And don’t forget mama! While less adorable, she might need things like sanitary pads, ice packs, or prescriptions picked up. Check to see if you can bring any of these essentials.
Lots of new moms are swimming in freezer meals, either ones she’s prepared, family has brought, or even the wonderful gift of a meal train from her community. These are great, but freezer and refrigerator space is limited. Instead, consider bringing basics like milk, bread, and fresh fruit and veggies. Quick prepared foods like granola bars, cheese sticks, and oatmeal cookies (to boost milk supply is mama is nursing!) are a wonderful addition and don’t require cooking or heating. Access to fresh, healthy foods can make a depressed mama feel better about nourishing herself.
Dishing It Out
Speaking of food, you gotta eat it with something, after all. Those bowls of cereal halfway eaten while standing in the kitchen ain’t gonna wash themselves. Dishes seem an easy thing to do until they start piling up – a particularly overwhelming side effect when one is bottle feeding or pumping. Most baby-feeding accoutrements need to be not only washed, but also sterilized (at least until baby has learned to put everything in her mouth, in which case just give up on the sterilizing). It doesn’t take long for a suffering mama to feel like the stacks are just overwhelming, so clear them up and put them away while you’re visiting. Alternately, bring disposable or recyclable dishes and silverware so cleanup is as simple as a toss!
Take A Load Off
Babies. Are. Messy. Though small, all those wardrobe changes add up quickly. And that’s not even thinking about the adult clothing that also needs to be washed (oh yeah, babies mess up parents’ clothing, too). When you arrive, start a load, then dry and fold it before you leave. It can be challenging to put away clothes, so offer to do it, but simply getting the load done and folded makes it easier for mama or partner to put them away quickly (and save them the trouble of looking for something that was put in an unexpected location). Wearing clean, freshly laundered clothes can be uplifting for a depressed or anxious mama, even if she hasn’t had the chance to shower.
Clean In The Sheets
Night sweats are a common postpartum reaction to changing hormones, and anxiety and depression can exacerbate this to unbearable levels, even prolonging this soggy symptom once the hormones have since settled. Like other laundry, clean sheets are a comfort for a new mama (and her partner).
Wipe down counters in the kitchen and bathroom, clean toilets, sweep floors, and just generally declutter. These are simple cleaning tasks that can make a room feel much more orderly. A depressed or anxious mama is stressing about how she’s going to find time and energy to clean, and even how her home is looking to visitors (as much as we say we don’t mind, she might). Check for the usual supplies under sinks, in pantries, or out in the garage, but don’t be afraid to ask where they are.
Take out the trash. You’ll probably find a kitchen garbage can brimming, but don’t forget other smaller wastebaskets in bathrooms and bedrooms. And get that diaper pail outta there! Enclosed pails may claim to hold more than a hundred newborn diapers, but really, how long have they been fermenting in there? Nope, take it out. This is especially helpful for mamas recovering from a c-section (a risk factor for maternal mental illness) who may not be able to lift a heavy load.
Work It Out
Mamas who go back to work can also suffer from maternal mental health problems and unique challenges. Don’t forget these women who are often doing a challenging balancing act that can include pumping, managing night feedings, and arranging childcare.
Keep It Up
Mamas of newborns can get a lot of attention in the early weeks after baby comes home, but postpartum depression and anxiety are more likely to strike after the first few weeks of “baby blues.” Maternal mental health disorders can present anytime during the first year postpartum, so keep up with that mama even after the first month. As time moves along, a mama can often feel left behind and isolated. Keep doing these things to help keep the isolation of motherhood at bay.
In An Emergency
If a mama is in a crisis situation, know what resources are available. Find the crisis phone numbers for your state, consult the Postpartum Support International website at postpartum.net, use the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or call 911. Reassure mama that both she and her children are cared for and safe.
Even if you can’t provide any of these yourself, purchasing time or credit with a professional service is just as good. Help mama to schedule visits from housecleaners or a laundry service. And keep checking in. A mama who isn’t communicating may be struggling, but a mama who is posting oodles of adorable baby moments and Pinterest-worthy photos can be in just as much pain. Postpartum mental health complications don’t discriminate, so ask how she’s really feeling.
You can make a real difference in any new mama’s life, no diaper commercial filters needed.