Parenting

How to support a loved one who has postpartum depression


Many parents will experience postpartum depression (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Perinatal mental health problems will impact 10-20% of women during pregnancy and the first year of having a baby.

That’s a staggering statistic, given the severity of the depression, anxiety, doubt and self loathing that comes with such an emotionally immobilising condition.

Women with postpartum depression can experience a whole range of symptoms, from feeling detached from their babies through to serious bouts of depression, and they will need all the support that they can get.

For partners who love this woman, the mother of their child but equally their wife or girlfriend and soulmate, it can feel like a helpless situation.

The lack of control and the desperation to help is difficult, especially as you have to be the strong one – and seeing the one you love in such agony is traumatic and terrifying.



What’s the difference between postpartum depression and postnatal depression?

The terms ‘postpartum period’ and ‘postnatal period’ are often used interchangeably but sometimes separately, when ‘postpartum’ refers to issues pertaining to the mother and ‘postnatal’ refers to those concerning the baby.

There are a lot of steps that can be taken to be the rock that she needs and while you can’t cure her, you can be there for her, reassure her and take the strain.

A new mother having postpartum depression does not necessarily mean that she can’t connect with her baby or babies – although that can be a symptom. It can manifest itself in being overly paranoid about the welfare of her child or the extreme self doubt that she is a bad mother, which, of course, she is not.

Understanding and reassurance is ultimately the main key in this scenario.

Identifying that there is something wrong and offering repeated reassurances of how amazing she is and that you are there for her night and day – even if you have to say it several times in a day – will remind her that she is not alone and that you are not judging her.

Don’t push her too much to talk. Let her explain in her own way and monitor your reactions. What you might hear might be troubling or shocking to you but don’t react with judgement or horror; remember this is the condition causing her to believe these things and see the perspectives that perhaps just aren’t there in your view.

Most importantly of all, remembering that she is not just the vessel of your child but your best friend and the person you love has to be central in all that you do.

Show her you love her – one of the fears attached to postpartum depression is that the arrival of a child will ruin a marriage or relationship or the general set-up of life.

Support from loved ones is essential (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Show empathy. It may get frustrating for you at times and your instinct may be to tell her to snap out of it but this is unhelpful.

Everything will be overwhelming for her, so taking the onus off of her with practical tasks will be a huge help – even the smallest of jobs can feel like a major burden.

When she is speaking out, praise her, acknowledge her and try and see if you can help her get the access to available help. She may not be instantly open to this and it’s important not to nag – but as one mother who has been through the journey tells us, the help she got was invaluable when her postpartum depression was at a peak.

‘I started psychotherapy when my daughter was about six months old,’ the mum tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Without it I’m not sure where I’d be.

‘Go to therapy and know that you aren’t alone. Take time to look after yourself and know that asking for help doesn’t make you a bad mother.’

Jessica Ordonez Barnett, a Latina-Texan-Tel Avivian living in London, is the loving mother of three children.

‘I experienced an overwhelming sense of loss,’ says mum-of-three Jessica (Picture: Jessica Ordoñez Barnett/The Lipstick Lens)

Discussing her experience with postpartum depression, Jess explains: ‘I experienced an overwhelming sense of loss of self but couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt how I felt.

‘I was madly in love with my newborn and grateful for her arrival yet couldn’t pull myself from feeling this lingering dread and sadness.

‘Being a mother was so much harder than I had ever expected. The small tasks like feeding myself became impossible as I was obsessed with making sure she was tended to 24/7.

‘I struggled with looking after myself the most and spent a lot of time criticising myself.’

Jess encourages every mother experiencing this to seek professional help as this is ultimately what guided her out of a very dark tunnel – but she recognises the importance of how a partner can be a rock; even if they too are suffering.

She recalls: ‘The only other support I received was from my husband, but he was also suffering with postpartum depression, which is something that isn’t discussed enough.’

Jessica encourages those struggling to seek help as soon as possible (Picture: Jessica Ordoñez Barnett / The Lipstick Lens)

She goes on to add: ‘I think the resources and support are there if you look for it. The issue is recognising it and knowing how to ask for the help.’

Jess’ husband was one factor who helped her through it and charity Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) lays out important steps for a partner to take, which are listed below.

But what things don’t help? What should you avoid saying or doing as a partner?

Jess says: ‘I don’t know anything specific other than the obvious “Stop being sad” but I will say talking to someone with PPD and expecting them to be able to function normally isn’t helpful.

‘And stay away from Facebook mums groups. They do not help a woman suffering PPD.’

It was undoubtedly an extremely tough experience for Jess, as it is for the one in five women on average who deal with some form of postnatal or postpartum illness.

Reflecting on her journey since, Jess says: ‘What I came to understand with my PPD is that it was triggered by my childhood traumas. I needed to pick those apart and heal those parts inside of me to grasp why motherhood was so difficult for me.

‘I don’t think traumas are spoken enough about how they affect our mental states and what kind of impact it has on our day to day lives.

‘I believe it manifests itself in various ways and PPD happened to be my own manifestation of my unhealed traumas. Thankfully, after years of therapy and learning to love myself I am in a much better place.’

Jess is a public speaker and self love advocate who founded The Lipstick Lens through an outgrowth of frank conversations. Conversations had with women who, like her, were just beginning to find the language to describe their needs, their wants, and their questions. You can follow the Lipstick Lens on Instagram here.



How you can support someone with postpartum depression:

  1. Do try to give her as much practical help as possible. Depression makes a sufferer feel extremely tired and small tasks feel like huge ones.
  2. Do try to let the mother express her own feelings of anxiety and fear, even if she repeats herself.
  3. Do allow the mother to talk freely and express her innermost fears without showing shock or amazement.
  4. Do show consideration and sympathy for her in her predicament. Reassure her that she will recover, repeat this reassurance as often as you can.
  5. Do encourage her to have as much rest as possible.
  6. Do encourage and praise when the mother makes an effort.
  7. Do encourage her to seek professional help, if she has not already done so.
  8. Do try to get out together, but never force the mother to do anything she doesn’t feel up to doing.
  9. Don’t nag. Try to keep your patience even though it may be taxed.
  10. Don’t point out shortcomings, unfinished jobs, unkempt appearance.
  11. Don’t say ‘Pull yourself together. You don’t know how lucky you are. There are lots worse off than you.’
  12. Don’t leave her alone with baby if you feel there is the slightest possibility of her doing harm to the child or herself.
  13. Don’t expect the sufferer to have fears and worries that you feel are reasonable. When you are depressed quite small things can worry or upset you greatly.
  14. Don’t try to cope alone. You may find the present situation exhausting and stressful. Do talk about your own feelings as much as possible but not to your partner, and accept any offers of help from other.
  15. To partners: Remember she is still your wife/girlfriend, not just the mother to a child.

Association For Post Natal Illness (APNI)

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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