Editors Note: This article is written by Sherry Allchin as part of our series on finding hope in the midst of depression. In this series, our counselors are helping people understand the reality of depression and how God sustains and helps those who are depressed. View the Series Page here.
This article will give you perspective and share the best ways to help someone who is struggling with postpartum depression.
A new baby – what a joy! Or NOT…at least for this Mom! She looked forward to this time for so many years, but now? It’s hard to get up, feed her baby, or paint a smile that just isn’t there. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, was it? When will it feel “normal” again – never?
This is just one of the many negative feelings for those Moms struggling with postpartum depression. The black cloud hangs over everything that was supposed to bring her joy. This makes no sense to her family who keeps questioning what went wrong. Maybe she’s your friend and your help could make a life or death difference to her, but you are wondering how to help.
Experiencing postpartum “baby blues” is fairly normal after a woman gives birth because so many physical changes take place all at once during the end of pregnancy, delivery, lactation, and adjustment to a new baby who is totally dependent. Most women are encouraged to know this feeling of being overwhelmed will correct itself as the hormones return to normal (usually around 6 wks.) and the baby settles into family life (usually between 3-6 mo.).
But for a few women, this feeling worsens and continues to become postpartum depression that may last from a few months to a year or more. For an even smaller percentage, postpartum psychosis is a serious issue. Family, friends, and medical professionals need to step in to help these women – both she and her children may be at risk. Get help soon!
Caring for the Whole Person
The first step is a thorough medical assessment. Are hormones still imbalanced due to the pregnancy? Was there depression or a mental health issue before the pregnancy that has worsened? Are there suicidal ideations or thoughts of hurting her baby or children? Did she stop medication during pregnancy or nursing that may need to be re-evaluated now? Medication may help her to get through this difficult readjustment if it has gone beyond the normal “baby blues” stage.
She may also be nutrient deficient and may need supplements to increase her energy level and uplift her mood swings. Is she eating healthy and getting some form of exercise, preferably long walks while pushing the baby in a stroller if weather permits? Is her sleep interrupted multiple times by the baby or is her husband sharing that detail with her?
You Can Make a Difference
A family that is supportive may be the most important help to a new mom experiencing postpartum depression. If you are walking with a struggling mom, how can you help? If she is you, what can you change? Ask for help and then accept it! Implement just one step of change at a time to see the benefits compound until that black cloud lifts and “normal” returns, or at least “a new normal” that includes a growing family. If you are walking with that struggling mom, love and support her and encourage her with very practical help.
Postpartum depression is counseled in the same way any other depression is counseled, but compounded by the fact that two or more lives are directly affected. The welfare of both mother and baby is at stake. Here are some very practical ways to work with this new mom that will multiply your efforts to help her. If you are this new mom, talk with someone about your answer to these questions.
Seek to Understand so You Can Care!
First, I want to hear her story. Ask enough questions to truly understand her life and circumstances.
- Find out what her life was like before her pregnancy, whether she was trying to get pregnant or was this a surprise? What were her life goals and evaluations of her life? What changes does she think this baby is making to her life now and in the future?
- Does she feel supported? Help her evaluate the ways she is being supported, even if she might not feel it right now. If she isn’t supported, who can she ask to help and in what ways?
- Were there relational problems with anyone before the pregnancy, during the pregnancy, and now? With whom and how is she working to change those dynamics?
- Are there financial hardships because of this pregnancy?
- What were her emotions like during the pregnancy compared to before and now? Does she struggle with anger, bitterness, depression, anxiety, guilt and shame, loneliness, or any other emotional strain?
- How does God fit into her life and does her family worship together? Does she read God’s Word and pray? Does she see every life as a gift from God and how does this baby fit into that reality? Does she have a weak or a strong commitment to her Faith? Does she understand the sanctification process?
- Does she believe there are any other contributing factors in her life and circumstances?
Understand the Progression of Depression
Depression starts with disappointments that are not processed through God’s eyes (Our DisAppointments are HisAppointments). Disappointments themselves are not sin, but may trigger sinful responses of Discontentment, Despair, and Destructive behaviors. (See the Slippery Slope of Depression Chart and how to counsel each stage of depression). We all face disappointments in life. So did the Apostle Paul, but he showed us how to avoid the pitfall of despair (2Cor 4:6-9).
When we help her to re-process her thinking to align it with God’s Truth, she will begin to feel different as a result of thinking differently and acting differently. I often tell ladies that we feel what we feel because we think what we think and do what we do! Emotions are a by-product, and we cannot change our emotions without changing our thinking and behavior (Php 4:1-9).
Status quo stagnates! Life should be an exciting adventure through trials producing growth that leads to maturity and to the joyful, abundant life (Jas 1:2-4)! Children certainly bring trials into our lives, but also the opportunity to mature along with them. Help the struggling woman to embrace this exciting new adventure of her life! As her thinking changes, so will her behaviors and emotions… and the black cloud will turn to sunshine!