Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top 20 Dos and Don'ts for Talking to Women with Post Partum Depression

People want to help. But sometimes, when we helpfully open our mouths, we make things much worse. Here are 10 things which are guaranteed to make a mom with post partum depression feel 100% worse.

10. Remind her of all her blessings. Yes, she may have a healthy baby, a supportive husband, a great support system of friends and family, health insurance, enough money to stay home from work, a nice car, a nice house, etc. But reminding her that she has no rational reason to be depressed ignores the illness aspect of post partum depression. Women with PPD aren’t depressed because of their situation: they are suffering from a disease.

9. Point out all the good things about her baby. Even if she has the perfect child: sleeps through the night at 8 weeks, nurses every 3 hours with no latching issues, never cries, poops rainbows that smell like marshmallows, this is not the time to talk about that. Again, she is battling a disease. A person with a tooth abscess can be grateful to have teeth at all, but that gratitude doesn’t stop the pain of the abscess.

8. Ask her if she can relate to how hard it is to be a mom. Very few women go into motherhood thinking it will be a walk in the park. Even if they do, post partum depression makes motherhood a million times harder, just the way having 2 broken legs would make motherhood a million times harder. She knows that all moms have a hard time – that’s one of the reasons so few women get proper treatment for PPD.

7. Offer her cures/solutions/treatments. Especially if she is going to therapy or taking prescribed medications to treat her depression, she doesn’t want to hear about how a XYZ totally solved your cousin’s best friend’s depression. If you aren’t an expert in treating post partum depression, don’t offer treatment suggestions.

6. Ask her when she’s having another baby. A mother struggling with post partum depression often wonders if having this baby was a mistake. The last thing she wants to consider is doing it all again.

5. Suggest how she can improve her feeding method. The whole issue of breastfeeding v. formula is a major source of guilt for most moms. If she’s using formula, she doesn’t need your opinion about how she should be breastfeeding. If she’s breastfeeding, she doesn’t need your opinion about how using formula will be better for her mental state.

4. Tell her she just needs to decide to be happy. A person can’t just decide to not have a broken leg or a tooth abscess. And a person can’t just decide to stop being depressed.

3. Tell her that it took you a long time to lose your baby weight too. I can’t imagine how anyone thinks it’s OK to talk to a woman about her weight these days, but some people do. Very few women can get their bodies back into pre-baby shape, especially without a lot of money and time. If you can't say anything nice, tell a white lie!

2. Remind her how much harder things could be. She doesn’t need to hear about how hard life was before disposable diapers, or before powdered formula, or before car seats. She also doesn’t need to know about how moms in Africa have to take care of a baby AND haul all their water for the day from a well. Reminders that her life is easier just reinforces the falsehood that she is ungrateful and her depression is her own fault.

1. Remind her that the days are long but the years are short. One of the problems with post partum depression is an inability to bond with the baby. Telling her that her time to bond with the child is limited adds to her stress.

And now, here are the Top 10 things you CAN do to help a woman with post partum depression.

10. Babysit for free. As long as she's not doing something destructive in her time away (like robbing banks or drinking bleach), giving her some time away from home is priceless.

9. Clean her house. Really any housekeeping task that she dislikes is a good one to take on for her, with her permission.

8. Listen to her talk. She spends most of her time with a nonverbal infant, and probably most of her conversations with her spouse are about the infant. Let her talk to you about anything and everything, and just listen without offering suggestions, solutions, or criticisms.

7. Find ways to make her laugh. Send her funny jokes or cartoons or videos. Buy her tickets to a funny movie and babysit while she’s watching it. Send her funny books. Sit down with her and joke about life.

6. Point out her accomplishments. Is she dressed? Remind her that even getting dressed is a challenge. Is she working out once a week? Congratulate her for making that effort. This is tricky, because it can easily veer into reminding her of her blessings, so make sure you are paying close attention to her reactions when you talk. 

5. Hug her a lot.

4. Pray for her. You don't have to do this when you're with her, unless she asks. Just praying for her during your day whenever you think of her is wonderful. You don't even have to tell her you're doing this - God's got it handled.

3. Give her permission to be imperfect. If she’s criticizing herself about something, remind her that it’s OK to be imperfect. It’s OK to formula feed. It’s OK to let the baby cry occasionally. It’s OK if a baby gets diaper rash. It’s OK to eat fast food or convenience food. It’s OK to not get dressed for 3 days in a row. It’s OK to wear her hair in a ponytail for a month at a time. It’s OK to eat emotionally. It's OK to have no sex drive. It's OK to gain weight. It's OK to have a messy house.

2. Hold the baby. Even if you can’t babysit, hold the baby whenever you get a chance. Babies love to be held, but a mom with post partum depression may not want to hold the child. You can give the mom a break AND nurture the baby just by holding it.

1. Validate her feelings. Post partum depression tells a lot of lies, and invalidating her feelings (“Oh, you don’t really hate your life, you just think you do”) adds even more uncertainty into her life. Validating feelings doesn’t mean agreeing with her. It just means acknowledging her emotions as real and offering sympathy and empathy. 

Post partum depression is an illness, not just situational depression or baby blues. Bottom line: Imagine how you would act if the mom were in a full body cast after a bunch of broken bones. Because that is how paralyzing post partum depression can be.

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