Advice to support pregnant and postpartum moms

ADVICE FOR HUSBANDS, PARTNERS AND FAMILY MEMBERS TO SUPPORT PREGNANT AND POSTPARTUM MOMS

Pregnant women, new moms and even new dads can sometimes struggle emotionally. A supportive community has an important role in helping a family transition to life with a new baby. Women who have significant mood changes often struggle to ask for help from their medical provider and their support network. A spouse, partner, family and friends are all important parts of a support network. A new mom may feel ashamed and embarrassed if she isn’t feeling great about the baby, herself or the transition to motherhood. If she has spoken to her doctor about how she is feeling, she may have been given some information about her risk for a perinatal mood disorder and, hopefully, given information about treatment. A perinatal mood disorder is, typically, a significant episode of depression or anxiety during pregnancy or the postpartum period. Spouses/ partners, family members and friends may be the first to suspect that their loved one needs help.

Support networks play an important role in helping a new mom who is struggling.

Family members and spouses/ partners have an important role in encouraging and supporting new moms experiencing depression or anxiety. It can be difficult for someone who is struggling to communicate what they need. Partners and spouses may not get a lot of guidance from the medical or behavioral health community on what they should say or do when their partner is struggling. Many new moms who are struggling doubt themselves, have unrealistic expectations of themselves and have self- critical thoughts. It can feel very hard to support someone who is going thru a dark time emotionally. Thankfully, there are things that you can say and do that will be helpful. The following summarizes some do’s and don’ts from Karen Kleinman, author of Postpartum Husband:

What you can Say:
• Tell her you know she feels terrible.
• Tell her she will get better.
• Tell her she is doing all the right things to get better (therapy, medication, etc.).
• Tell her it’s okay to make mistakes; she doesn’t have to do everything perfectly.
• Tell her you know how hard she’s working at this right now.
• Tell her to let you know what she needs you to do to help.
• Tell her you know she’s doing the best she can.
• Tell her you love her.
• Tell her your baby will be fine.

What you should NOT Say:
• Do not tell her she should “get over” this.
• Do not tell her you are tired of her feeling this way.
• Do not tell her this should be the happiest time of her life.
• Do not tell her you liked her better the way she was before.
• Do not tell her she’ll snap out of this.
• Do not tell her she would feel better if only: she were working, she were not working, she got out of the house more, stayed home more, etc.
• Do not tell her she should lose weight, color her hair, buy new clothes, etc.
• Do not tell her all new mothers feel this way.
• Do not tell her this is just a phase.
• Do not tell her if she wanted a baby, this is what she has to go through.
• Do not tell her you know she’s strong enough to get through this on her own and she doesn’t need help.

Practical things you can do:
1. Help around the house
2. Set limits with friends and family
3. Answer the phone. Take a message.
4. Throw in a load of laundry. Order take-out for dinner.
5. Accompany her to doctor’s appointments
6. Educate yourself about PPD, read the books your wife gives you
7. Write down the concerns and questions you have and taking them to her doctor or therapist.
8. Make a list, together, of the things that may provide an outlet for her so you can both refer to it when she needs a break.
9. The single most important thing for you to do to help is to just be with her. Sit with her. No TV, no kids, no dog, no bills, no newspaper. Just you and her. Let her know you’re there. This isn’t easy to do, especially with someone who seems so sad or so distant. Five minutes a day is a good place to start.
Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are very treatable!

Consistent support makes a difference!

Recovery takes longer when a woman does not get help to treat the mood disorder and when she does not get effective help from her support network. Spouses/ partners, friends and family members have an important role in providing support and in encouraging their loved one that she will get through this difficult time.

Picture of Lisa B Kelly, LCSW

Lisa B Kelly, LCSW

Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW, MPH