Helping friend who may be struggling with postpartum depression

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Raise concerns to the new mom, then stand back, just be a friend

Maryland: My best friend recently had a baby. She is having a hard time adjusting, and I'm worrying about her. Her husband says she just needs adjustment time, but I really think she is showing signs of postpartum depression. Is there a resource I can look into? And how do I bring up the subject with my friend without alienating her further?

Carolyn: Have you mentioned postpartum depression by name to the husband? I'm wondering if he was at all receptive or if he completely dismissed your concerns.

Someone, possibly you, will have to say something to your friend. There is a risk the suggestion will offend her, but, remember, you wouldn't be pointing out a personal failing — PPD is a common chemical imbalance. If that's in fact what she has.

Even if she doesn't have PPD, it's not uncommon for the adjustment to be a real struggle. Either way, listen to her, be there to help with the heavy lifting, even if it's just to bring dinners a few nights a week or hold the baby while she showers. Concerns/suggestions/advice always sound better coming from someone who is on the scene and really helping, vs. someone who drops in to offer only opinions, and only as a micro-fig leaf for outsize expectations (not that you're doing this, just that so many people do).

Maryland Again: I did talk to my friend's husband and her mother (I have known her since we were born). Both of them dismissed it as readjusting. But, I think this is more serious: The baby is colicky, she is not bonding with the baby, and I think she is blaming herself for that.

She is not returning calls, not wanting to get together, and isolating herself from what has been her support system. That is why I am so concerned.

I have tenderly brought the subject up with her as, "How are you feeling?" and "I'm coming over to give you some downtime," etc., but she keeps dodging my efforts. I'm worried that if I keep skating around the problem and everyone else keeps ignoring it, it will develop into something much worse.

Carolyn: Well, maybe she doesn't even want to hear about it, because it (in her mind) forces her to defend herself, her baby, etc. — which can come to feel like just one more burden.

If you have actually said your piece — as in "Have you been screened for postpartum depression?" — to her, her husband and mom, then it's time to shift your approach. Become someone who doesn't probe, but instead just helps without judging.

If she won't even see you, then drop off meals she can freeze. That tells her you're there when she's ready. If she will see you, then listen without offering advice. Advice to a new mom is like water on a witch — the person offering it sees it as harmless ol' water, but boy can it burn.

The problem may still develop into something worse, but sometimes that happens despite the best efforts of others. Ask yourself, have I made my case clearly, to the right people, with the right evidence to support it (www.womenshealth.gov is a straightforward resource)? If yes, then just be there and be her friend.

Helping friend who may be struggling with postpartum depression 08/17/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 17, 2009 11:51pm]

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