Sometimes its confronting to try to understand how to support women with postnatal depression. ALL expectant and new mothers need support! After all, its takes a tribe to raise a child. No matter what a Mums mental health is like prior to having a baby there is every possibility that she could encounter Postnatal Depression (PND). Some of my most seemingly happy and positive friends have been diagnosed with PND. No woman is immune, and some women are very good at hiding it! So please, read on, and let us shake the taboo of talking about and acknowledging PND!
Being a new mum is hard! Sometimes you feel like no matter what you do you are ‘failing’. For someone who has never suffered from PND it is difficult to truly understand what it is like. It’s challenging enough being a Mum without having to manage PND on top of it all. I feel like it is my duty as a woman and a mother to acknowledge that PND exists, that it sucks, that it is hard, and that women who battle with PND need support. When you consider all that is involved, in being a new mum, it perhaps wouldn’t come as a surprise that:
- 1 in 5 women in Australia will experience depression and 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime.
- Women are more likely to experience these conditions during pregnancy and the year following the birth of a baby.
- Depression (and likely anxiety) affects up to 1 in 10 women while they are pregnant and almost 1 in 7 women during the first year after the birth.
- Many women experience both and anxiety at the same time.
However, the prevalence of PND and anxiety often goes unnoticed and many women ‘suffer in silence’. Often women are reluctant to talk about the challenges and difficulties of being a new mum either due to feeling ‘like a failure’, feeling like they should be able to cope, or feeling that they may be judged. Some women become so ‘consumed’ in their new role as a mother, that they don’t actually realise that their mental health is deteriorating. Its important that us as women and Mums, we look out for each other and support each other. To do that, we first must know what the signs and symptoms of Postnatal Depression are:
- low mood
- feeling inadequate, like a failure, or feeling guilty, ashamed, worthless, hopeless, helpless, empty or sad
- often feeling close to tears
- feeling angry, irritable or resentful (e.g. feeling easily irritated by your other children or your partner)
- loss of interest in things that you would normally enjoy
- feeling unmotivated and unable to cope with the daily routine
- withdrawing from social contact and/or not looking after yourself properly
- decreased energy and feeling exhausted
The consistent message to women experiencing PND is to seek support from their friends, family, and health professionals. When I found out that a few of my friends were experiencing PND, I was unsure how exactly I could help. From my research I found a few ways that you can support :
Talking openly about the challenges of parenting allows mothers not to feel judged. Don’t hide the challenges and pretend everything is all roses. It’s not! Women hiding their challenges only leads to other women feeling like everyone else is managing without any troubles, and leaves them wondering why they aren’t finding everything so easy. These are your friends, be honest with each other. Let her know that her challenges are yours too.
Listening is one of the best things we can do to support a woman with postnatal depression. Most women with postnatal depression will take a while to speak out about it. You can help her by asking open ended questions, and offering a listening ear. You don’t need to offer solutions and advice (unless of course she asks for it). Let her talk, let her cry, give her a great big hug, and then keep listening…
Give her time out
If you suspect a mother could be suffering postnatal depression, offer support by asking if you can look after Baby whilst she has some time out. Or even better, cook her family a nice meal, or maybe drop over for a visit and help out with some chores, without taking over. Sometimes Mums crave uninterrupted quality time with their babies. The ‘break’ that we are often looking for is not time away from baby, but time with baby! Ask her what she prefers, and help whichever way you can.
Encourage Exercise and Self Care
There is strong evidence to support exercise as an intervention for PND. Instead of meeting for coffee, get your strollers or baby carriers and take a nice long walk together. Join a mothers exercise group. Get your yoga mats and take them to the park, ‘strike a pose’ (or 2) together. Often people feel a lot more comfortable when they are taking beside someone, rather than sitting directly in front of them.
I am a huge believer in the fact that mums are experts in their own children. What is right for one mother and her child, can be very different for another. Women have strong maternal instincts, and need to be encouraged to follow these instincts. Fight the urge to give advice on how to parent, unless she asks for it. Mums already judge themselves and everything they do already, they don’t need anyone adding to their mummy guilt! If she seems to be judging herself, remember to give her some positive feedback and let her know that she’s doing a great job.
Encourage her to get help
Some of the strongest evidence for managing mental health conditions supports psychological, medical and alternative therapy interventions. Encouraging Mums to seek help is a good starting point. If you are concerned that you yourself, or someone close to you may be experiencing signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia and Beyond Blue are 2 extremely valuable resources for women, their families, and their friends. Perhaps you could follow some of these organisations on social media to show your support, which might encourage others to take a further look into them as well.
If you want to understand more about how women feel when they have PND, She is Sacred is a beautiful blog that has raw and honest accounts of what women with PND think and feel. Let’s talk about PND and share our experiences with it, and shake the taboo that is tied to PND.
Want to join an awesome group of Mums that want to support each other? Head over to our facebook group!