Family members and friends may be the first to recognize symptoms of postpartum depression in a new mother. Encourage a mom to get professional help if needed and be persistent in your offers of help.
If you really want to be there for a new mom and offer your support, don’t leave an offer of help open-ended, be more specific or give her a forced choice: "Would you like me to sit and hold the baby this afternoon while you take a shower or run errands or take a nap, or you stay with baby while I fold the baby’s laundry?" Here are some tips what you could do:
validate her feelings: venting is not complaining - if a mom opens up and tells how she feels and how everything seems too hard, don't take it personally and help her by validating her feelings and telling her that you understand and that you're there for her;
listen, more than talk - really listen closely to understand how she's feeling. Listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing. You can understand another person’s point of view without agreeing with it. Save your advice for later;
acknowledge the things she does well - Validate her efforts and remind her of all the things she has accomplished that day in the course of caring and seeing to her child. Point out how well the baby is thriving and how s/he just smiled at her. Acknowledge how difficult it is to manage on broken sleep and be responsible for a baby;
let her know she is not alone - just letting her know you are right there with her and will give her whatever support she needs will be a huge comfort. Next, do a little research on her behalf and send her links to websites that talk about how common it is for new moms to experience postpartum anxiety and/or depression (about 1 in 5 women);
make sure she gets plenty of rest, let her nap - both her body and mind need rest;
cook a meal for her and family - when mom is exhaustedpreparing and cooking food can be a real struggle;
make her tea, coffee, lemonade: make sure she drinks plenty of fluids;
do the dishes - if the sink is piled up with dirty dishes, wash them, don't always wait for her directions;
do the laundry - help her fold it and put it away, there's always baby laundry to do;
help her clean the house - clean house feels lighter on us;
give her a break - change EVERY diaper you can, holding a baby is great, but always ask mom if that's ok;
take care of her older child(ren) - if this is a second baby, moms don’t get the same opportunity to rest or get things done when the baby naps as they perhaps did with their first baby;
tell her she is beautiful - help her see that in the moments when she is feeling most self-critical and hopeless about her body;
be her rock through all of this - keep perspective when her tongue is sharper than you know her best self intends;
offer reassurance and hope - say things like "Thank you for telling me this", "There is a way through this", "I am here for you", "You've got this", "You're a good mom".
Remember, normal will return soon and you want her to be grateful that you kept it together when she wasn't.
HELP A MOTHER - THINGS NOT TO DO
It’s really important to be kind and accepting. If a mom has opened up to you, which is probably a big thing for her, it’s important not to:
tell her to 'snap out of it' or 'toughen up' – People cannot 'make' themselves better;
tell her to stop complaining - she isn't, she is only venting;
react and attack back - mom may not seem like herself every day and sometimes she will say things she wouldn't say if she didn't feel mentally and physically exhausted every day;
encourage excess alcohol and drug use as a way of coping - it can make things worse;
avoid her – she already feels alone and this can make feel worse;
assume that she will get better on her own - she needs your help and support;
EVER judge or criticize her for what she's going through;
suggest or imply that she is weak or a burden on others;
tell her what and how to do things - offer advice only if she asks for one;
tell her that you have it harder than her;
compare her with other moms.
LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF
If you are the main support person for a mother who just gave birth, it can be rewarding but it is challenging too. It could take a while for her to get back on track, which is why it’s important that you also look after yourself.
It’s really important to make sure you have your own support system in place when you are supporting someone else, as it can take a lot out of you. Talking to others who are in a similar situation may be helpful. You need to care for your own wellbeing as well as the person you are caring for and feel OK about this. Make time to look after yourself, find opportunities to relax, have fun and take a break when you need it.