What Should Someone Say to a Mother with Postpartum Depression?

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Did you see this? You’re famous! ;-)

Thank you to all the Postpartum Progress readers who contributed to the “25 things never to say to a mom with postpartum depression” article, which has generated more than 5,000 reads both at BlogHer and now at NBC’s Today Moms site. It’s exciting to see that a lot of people are learning how NOT to treat someone who has a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. But we have more work to do …

The question I’m now getting is, “Okay. But what should you say to a new mom who is suffering?” I’m working on that story, of course, but I want to include your input.

Mom808 on the Todays Moms site suggested:

  • I didn’t have that — what is that like for you? Help me understand.
  • What can I do to help?
  • Can I come over and [insert household or childcare task] so you can [nap, shower, read etc.]?

What do you think people should say if they see you are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety as a new mother? Do you want them to offer help and if so what kind? Do you want them to suggest resources like PSI? What should they say about what you are going through? Share your comments below.

Also, if you haven’t had the chance, please hop over to the Today Moms site and thank them for sharing info on PPD. The more positive and educational stories that appear in the media, the better!

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Sometimes a mom doesn't know what she needs or that she needs help. A hug, a shoulder, a friend! If there is a support group in the area, offer to take her to it. Help make her feel as though she is not alone, and that it will get better!

  2. This is a great post because this is the complicated part. No new mom wants to admit everything isn't perfect… I didn't. I try to reach out to new moms to check in but I usually feel I don't know exactly what to say. I do try, though.

  3. This request is really tough! Perhaps a consideration for attitude needs to be added along with the helpful words, phrases and offering of help. If my PPMDs come back, I would want genuine offers to listen to me or even just sit, keep me company, let me get a nap/shower, for childcare (take my toddler to the park, childrens museum, etc.), for chores (kitchen, bathroom, laundry) and of course the casserole. Since I've been there, I now am on the look out for any mamas that show possible signs of PPMDs and I listen and offer resources. I can't wait to see what the final list looks like :)

  4. Amber@Beyond Postpar says:

    What might bring you peace or joy…even in the midst of your struggle? How can I help to make that happen for you this week?
    This is treatable. 100%. And I will be there to walk the ENTIRE journey with you.
    I KNOW this is not about having a positive attitude or realizing how blessed you are. I'm not going to tell you to think good thoughts or pull up your bootstraps because I know that's not what this is about.
    It's NOT your fault.
    I know you need a safe place to share the thoughts and feelings you are having right now. I want to be that place for you.
    I don't/won't judge you.
    You are still the smart/amazing/competent person you were before PPD…and you will be all those things again.
    Wow. It must be really hard to be going through all of this and still be such a great mom that you are taking the time/energy to get yourself well…good for you!
    Call me anytime (of the day or night). -and mean it.

  5. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Fantastic input Amber. I love them all.

  6. Just to hear that someone else has had the same (seemingly) horrid thoughts. That's all I ever needed, and it's what I try and offer to any new mothers, even if they don't offer that they're suffering.

  7. What you say is that you support her 100% and that it will get better. She will recover but it will take time. If there is a support group in your area, offer to take her.
    I believe that having support is the most important thing and that is how I got better and saw things in a different light. Knowing people that have gone or are going through the same situation helps tremendously. I feel these days that there are plenty of resources out there that can put someone in touch with someone that can help or guide you in the right direction to get help.
    Just know that you are not the only one that is going through this or has gone through this and it will get better.

  8. I found that a 'call me if you need anything' was too vague. And I would have to admit something was wrong to ask for help. I appreciated a more direct approach. "Will you be home Thursday afternoon? I'm coming over to play with the baby and you are gonna nap" "Here, i brought you dinner"
    If someone is worried about a friend they could find a meeting, a supportive doctor, etc. and present that information to suffering friend. "I found this group meeting for people suffering from PPD, I'm available to babysit if you are interested in attending, or finding a sitter and i can go with you." Sometimes if you don't have the courage to ask for help, but if it's sitting in front of you it's easier to accept.

  9. These are all amazing.

  10. Instead of saying "can I set up a meals calendar for you" or "let me know if you want some dinner tonight" or "let me know if you need anything" DO say "I'm going to set up a calendar and have some of our friends bring you meals – is that okay with you?" or "Why don't I bring by dinner tonight, it's on me!" or "will you be around Thursday? I'd love to come hold the baby so you can shower and maybe help you around the house in any way you need" It's so hard to ask for help, at least it was for me, even if someone said "let me know if you need anything" Oh, and don't say it unless you mean it!
    Also, the thing that stands out to me the most is when i first got in touch with a PSI coordinator and she ended her email with "I'm here for you…" I cried when I read it, and it's the first thing I now try to say to someone who is struggling.
    "What can I do that would help you, you tell me, because I want to be here for you but I'm not sure how" I had a friend ask me this, and I told her to ask me every day how I was doing. Unfortunately, she forgot all the time because my "everything is awesome!" mask was pretty refined.
    Oh and I agree with thordora… share your own experiences if the woman seems to be having some of the same. "Look, anything you tell me will not shock me, please feel like you can tell me whatever – I'm safe"

  11. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    You are all amazing. As per usual.

  12. When I as first sick I didn't really know what was happening to me. All I know is that I would tell a Dr. or my Mom that I was hallucinating and having bad thoughts and they would say "oh that's just the baby blues, it will get better in 2 weeks". My Mom's response was I wasn't built Ford tough and that I should give myself a day and get over it. I guess what people could of said to me were:
    – please tell me what your seeing and thinking and we'll deal with it together.
    – I can't imagine what this is like but I know it's real (meaning I'm not making it up) and I want to help in any way I can.
    – Your not a bad mother because this is happening to you, this is a chemical/medical condition that has to be treated and you will get better with time.
    – There are a lot of women who this happens to and they don't talk about it, your very courageous for sharing your feelings and experience.
    – Lots of women don't bond with their baby right away, don't be so hard on ayourself.
    – Your not a nut case that needs to be treated like a crazy person, I understand that it's a medical condition and should be treated with respect.
    – You will get better in time
    Stacy

  13. Lori @ I Can Grow Pe says:

    - I may not know how you are feeling, but I am here for you and will help you any way I can. (Thankfully, this is what my husband said to me when I told him that I thought I had PPD.)
    – It's okay to ask for help. No one does it alone, even if they act like they do.
    – It's okay to want some time for yourself.
    – Formula feeding is okay and doesn't make you any less of a mother.
    – How are you feeling *really*?
    – You and your baby are still getting to know each other. Bonding takes time.
    – Be patient with yourself. Your life is in flux right now and with some help, you will feel better.
    – It's okay to cry. And it is okay to not know why you are crying.
    – This is treatable. And lots of women go through this, though not all of them talk about it.

  14. I'm with you, Melissa. I was too deep to reach out for the help– even from those who offered. I needed *them* to make the decision, make the plan as you explain in your examples.
    I feel the same way about the phrase "I'll support you." What does that mean? A HOW explaination would be great after a sentence like that.

  15. I'm in the middle of serious perinatal anxiety/depression right now. I'm about 2 weeks into treatment, and I'm 26 weeks pregnant. I had PPD with my first child, was on Zoloft through my second pregnancy and after (but went off of it for the 3rd trimester), so I've been here before…
    Some of the most helpful compliments I've received have been along the lines of, "If you hadn't said anything, I never would have known you were struggling." Since I have two older kids, I'm working REALLY hard at keeping it together for their sake. It's nice to know that the illusion is working.
    Aside from that, any positive compliment ("That top looks nice…" "Great cookies…" "Your kids look great today…") is great for keeping my spirits up, as long as it's sincere. I guess what I mean is that it doesn't have to be specifically about PAMD for a compliment or a comment to lift my spirits. Sometimes the ones that lift me up the most are about my parenting, because that's where a lot of my anxiety lives. If someone simply says, "Your kids are lucky to have you!" I feel great, for a little while.
    I think it's important to note, though, that there's nothing anyone can say to make it all better. There are no magic words. I know when friends of mine are struggling, I always feel like I could fix it for them if I just knew what to say, and I have to remind myself that no words are strong enough to do that, sometimes.
    Specific offers of help are great, as noted above. I have a neighbor who has let my kids play at her house a LOT lately, which has been wonderful.
    Reminders that I'm not alone, and that this is temporary, help too.
    Maybe we should do a list of 25 things a husband can do to help a wife with PPD/PAMD next. It's got to be hard on them. Mine has been great, so I have lots of suggestions for that one. Husbands can offer things (backrubs!) that I wouldn't be comfortable with if a friend offered.

  16. Chersteen says:

    I had brutal postpartum OCD/PPD that actually started far into third trimester, (antepartum) and was full fledged post partum, but I realized something was very wrong within the first days and sought help after 2 weeks. But, I was ashamed and embrarassed to admit my feelings….Its true that there are no magic words, but what helped me the most was hearing that it was only temporary and common and treatable. For me, hearing from someone that they had gone through the same thing, and were now healthy and happy, was the most heartening and inspiring even in the midst of it. And,hearing that I was a good Mom and it wasn't my fault, wasn't a weakness on my part, but in fact a strength to admit I needed help and to struggle through it, one day at a time, and come out victorious. And that is indeed what happened! I appreciated all the loving support I received from family and friends…. Hugs were especially appreciated. And, just the supportive thought that "this WILL get better, and you are not alone" was what was so important to me at the time.

  17. Chersteen says:

    Great comments!! :-)

  18. Chersteen says:

    Definitely!

  19. Chersteen says:

    I agree.. vague offers of help don't work in this situation, it has to be specific and assertive, as well as supportive.

  20. I struggled through a long bout of PPD and had a lot of the wrong things said that were mentioned in your previous list. I was overwhelmed with guilt for not being happy and felt like I was losing my mind.
    Finally one day my husband said tentatively, "I was listening on the radio and they were talking about PPD. I've noticed you just haven't seemed like yourself for a long time. Do you want to talk about it?"
    Just having someone acknowledge that yes, I WAS having a hard time, but he wasn't judging me and didn't think I was crazy, made all the difference in the world and opened the door for me to start moving in the right direction.
    Other good phrases:
    "I love you and I'm here for you no matter what."
    "You're not crazy, lots of women experience this and you are not alone. We'll get through this."
    "Talk to me"
    "You're a wonderful mother and person. Thank you for all the sacrifices you've been making, I know it hasn't been easy."

  21. I would tell her that she WILL get better. I'd tell her my story if I thought it would help – and how I recovered. I'd tell her to let go of the guilt and pressure she has on herself and let herself get better. Take dr. and therapy advice and take medication if need be. I'd pass along professional services I used to get better. And my ph. # that she could use 24/7 if need be.

  22. After suffering for over 3 yrs with PPD/PPA, the hardest thing for me was if a mom asked, "how can I help you?". I could not make a decision to save my life but desperatly needed help. Instead, I wish someone had been DIRECT with me and said, " I am coming over on Friday at 10am to clean your house, or " I am coming over and babysistting while you are sleeping upstairs and will fold laundry."
    Tell the mom what you want to do instead of asking. It might be hard for the person helping because they might feel like they are intruding, but really, it is the opposite.

  23. I had Postpartum anxiety and panic so it was really hard for me to do things like, relax, take a nap, sleep, eat, etc. And I was sure that I would never recover my former self, that this was my new reality. For me, I needed to hear people say that this was a treatable illness and that I wasn't always going to be like this. When I couldn't believe that myself I needed to ask my husband, my mom, almost every hour, "are you sure I'm going to be ok?" "are you sure I won't be like this forever" just to hear them say it. Also friends and moms that haven't gone through it, it can be intimidating to talk about what is going on with them but offers to just sit and talk or not talk, whatever a suffering mom can handle at the time. I didn't want to be around anyone who I had to put on a happy face for, I needed people who could deal with me crying or just sitting silently, so sometimes offers to bring meals but not even come in.
    It's not your fault.
    You won't feel like this forever.
    I needed to hear someone say that they had felt like I had and was now okay.

  24. Just a few suggestions of things I wanted to hear when going through ppocd…
    " I love you, and I will never leave you"
    " You WILL get through this…This hell WILL end"
    " They are feelings/thoughts, YOU are not those feelings/thoughts…."
    " Your baby is going to be OK, she/he is not going to be forever broken because you have ppd"
    " Can I help you make that doctor appointment/counseling appointment/whatever needs to be done…"
    " It is OK to take meds for ppd"
    " It is OK to grieve the loss of what you thought your postpartum experience would be"
    " It is OK to accept help right now…in fact, it is good…"
    " You are NOT ALONE"
    " You are not crazy, weird, strange, insane, or otherwise defective, you have an illness that was beyond your control, but it is NOT who you are… it is something that is happening TOO you and it will end"

  25. I am so thankful that you were able to have your article featured, it's amazing.
    As for things I wanted to hear when I had PPD, there wasn't really anything specific from people other than my husband. From him, I wanted to hear that I was doing a wonderful job, that he was thankful for me, and that he'd done all the dishes.
    From my friends, the most important thing was to know that they were thinking of me. Even if it was just a phone call, hearing a friendly voice on the other line and knowing I'd been thought of by someone else made me realize that someone really would notice if I wasn't there. It was always a powerful reminder.

  26. How are you feeling emotionally? I'm asking because I went through a postpartum mood disorder myself or I know that it is the number 1 complication of childbirth" melts any defence that was about to come up.
    "Did you know that it's the most common complication of childbirth?"
    "Did you know that 1 in 5 women suffer from a postpartum mood disorder?"
    "Every single postpartum mood disorder is treatable."
    "Nothing you say about what is happening to you will shock the postpartum specialists at __________" (fill in the blank with the name of the program/organization) you are referring the person to. If you don't know organizations, then offer to look them up for her.
    "Even in the worst case scenario (postpartum psychosis,)all that will happen is that you may need to be in the hospital for some days until you stabilize. Think about it, that is the same type of thing that would happen to you if you had a heart attack or stroke – it's no different."
    "You are not a bad person, you are sick right now with a condition that is treatable."
    "You don't need to feel guilty about the thoughts or feelings you are having because they are a result of symptoms of a recognized illness. You wouldn't feel guilty about having a tumour, would you?"
    "They will not take away your child for seeking help for a postpartum mood disorder. They take away a child who's life is threatened or is at risk, and by seeking help you are showing that you are eager and willing to make sure you are healthy and safe."
    "You did nothing wrong to get this illness, unless it's a crime to have a baby, and we all know that's not the case:)"
    "You will be well."
    "You need to do what is right for you right now around breastfeeding, taking meds etc., because what's best for you, is what is best for the baby."
    "Baby needs his/her mom to be happy and healthy more than he/she needs breastmilk" – in the event taking meds that are bad for nursing is a concern.
    "You are not alone and I want you to visit http://www.postpartumprogress.com so that you can see exactly what kind of amazing company you are in right now" – and I swear I've said this (lol)!

  27. Say "I will be here for you when ever…WHEN EVER you need me to cry, to laugh, to hug, to do whatever it is you need in that moment. I AM HERE FOR YOU"
    "WE can get through this"
    Call me. Just call me when you have the time just to say "Hi. How are you?"
    I have never asked anyone to understand what I'm going through but to be empathetic.
    "I love you"
    "You are worth it"
    "What's on your mind?"
    I found it really hard when people would tell me "I can help you out. What can I do?" because it made me feel like I was failing at motherhood and life and I felt guilty asking for help. The best thing that my friends ever did was just stepped in and took over. Like my bestfriend would just show up at my house and say "I am being a baby hog and I'm going to hold him for hours so you might as well go shower or sleep because you're not getting him."

  28. A few I would have loved to have heard:
    -You WILL feel like the old you again.
    -How are you feeling today – REALLY?
    -The American image and alleged norm of "Supermom" does not really exist. It's OK to not be perfect.
    -Although you are now a mother, it IS still about you!
    -You may have postpartum depression, but postpartum depression does NOT have you!!
    Elizabeth