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Wrapping New Parents with TLC
The stork has been busy around here lately! From my North City friend who delivered a perfect baby daughter (at home, sans drugs, you go, girl!) to a South City couple who welcomed the cutest twins ever (via the beautiful generosity of a surrogate mother), my Facebook feed has been full of baby news.
The timing has me in a reflective mood, because five years ago this month − about a year after my youngest son was born − I realized I had postpartum depression.
It was incredibly isolating. I quit a job I loved because I just couldn’t keep it together, and I had no idea that 10 to 15 percent of new moms experience the same level of mental health trouble that I was having. (For some segments of the population, like Hispanic moms, the rate is even higher – and less likely to be diagnosed.)
My treatment was straightforward, and everything worked out fine. In fact, I gained enormous self-awareness and strength from the experience. But despite the fact that so many women go through it, I was never screened by any of our healthcare providers, nor did I really know what symptoms to look for.
According to a 2010 study, about 10 percent of new dads also experience depression after their child is born. Their symptoms tend to be different – irritability, withdrawal or emotional detachment are more common for men, while women may be fatigued, uninterested in eating, have trouble making decisions, feel guilty, undergo changes in their sleep patterns and, in a worst-case scenario, be suicidal.
You may not notice that a family member or friend is feeling this way, or you may write it off as normal (which it could be, because 85 percent of women experience “baby blues” that are less serious and go away on their own). But if you DO notice something and you’re worried:
- Give the parent the number for Postpartum Support International, 800.944.4PPD. There is expert telephone support for new moms each Wednesday, and for dads on the first Monday of the month.
- Write a note on your calendar to check in with them again in a week or two. Follow up on it. Don’t worry, you’re not a busybody! Having a social support network is incredibly important for new parents, and they might not have the wherewithal to keep it going on their own as they juggle the new baby, work, and symptoms of depression.
- Suggest a peer support group like Mother to Mother, a local telephone support organization staffed by volunteers who have been through emotional difficulties during pregnancy or new parenthood.
It’s impossible to prevent the hormonal imbalances that lead to postpartum depression for many women, but there are some simple ways to brighten new parents’ day. By doing one of these, you build the social supports are an important protective factor:
- Feed them. A bag of groceries is lovely, but a cooked, ready-to-eat meal is bliss.
- Organize a whole bunch of people to feed them. You can use sites like Take Them a Meal or do it the old-fashioned way, by Facebook and phone calls. The last time I coordinated one of these, we were able to feed a friend’s family for 10 days, and she had frozen leftovers for another week’s worth of meals. She was so inspired that she recently organized a meal drive for another new mom.
- Comment on the parent, not the baby. Yesterday a friend and I made a point to say hello and congratulations to a sweaty and stressed-looking dad who was balancing twin newborns on his chest at a school concert. His whole face lit up while we talked about his skillful solo handling of the situation. New dads in particular need reassurance and validation.
- Give them some reading material for those nursing/burping/rocking sessions. I suggest Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide (yes, there’s a chapter on dads too). The book, by a local expert in moms’ mental health, is available in hard copy or as a digital download.
- Use common sense. Don’t drop in uninvited, comment on appearance, hold the baby when you feel sneezy, etc. Ask permission for interactions.
- Offer playdates for older siblings. Include pick-up and drop-off services in your offer. And while you’re at it, see #1.
By Amy De La Hunt, Health Blogger for SmartParenting