When women give birth, they're often expected to step straight into the role of nurturer, comforter and supporter. It's important for family and friends to remember that the mums themselves need looking after - especially if they're feeling overwhelmed.
Some new mums become so preoccupied with their baby that they don't realise how much they're struggling. It's often their partner or another family member who notices that something is wrong. Other mums may recognise how they're feeling, but not know how to talk to anyone about it.
Whatever the situation, we know that having a supportive partner, family member or friend can make a real difference for someone struggling with their mental health in the perinatal period.
How can family and friends help?
It may be difficult, upsetting and frustrating to live with, or be close to, someone who is experiencing a perinatal mental health problem - but it's important not to blame them for how they are feeling.
Some people who experience perinatal mental health problems may be reluctant to ask for help, out of fear that they might be judged as a bad parent or that it will result in their baby being taken away from them.
So it can be really important for you to reassure them that many people have these experiences, and that they can get better.
You may find it helpful to look at some of the other pages on this section of the website to read more about some of the symptoms your friend or family member might be experiencing.
If you think or suspect that the person you are close to is experiencing any of the following serious symptoms, which might see being called "Red Flag Symptoms", then you need to make sure that they get help as soon as possible and they should have an urgent referral to a specialist team.
Red Flag Symptoms:
- New thoughts of violent self-harm
- Sudden onset or rapidly worsening symptoms
- Persistent feelings of estrangement from your baby
Make time for them
You might worry that you're intruding on a private time for their family, or that your loved one might not feel they are able to ask for your support - but it's always worth offering. You could:
- Offer to spend casual time with them. Just having some company while getting on with daily tasks and looking after their baby can help make your loved one feel less isolated.
- Make time to keep in touch. If your loved one is struggling with their mental health, it can make a big difference to them if they feel that you're thinking of them and actively want to spent time together.
- Suggest activities that you used to do together. Becoming a parent can make some people feel as if they're losing touch with their previous identities, so see if you can find things to do together that you did before they became a parent.
- Offer to go to parent-child groups or activities together if your loved one is feeling nervous about going alone.
- Give them space. Your loved one might feel under pressure to be positive about their experience of becoming a parent, and it might take some time for them to feel able to talk.
- Learn about perinatal mental health. If you're worried about how to talk to your loved one about their mental health, try reading the rest of the pages on this section of the website to learn more.
- Listen to them. You might want to offer them advice or encourage them to think about how happy they are to have their baby, but your loved one might feel as if they're being criticised. Try to listen to what they want to share.
- Don't judge. If your loved one opens up about distressing thoughts, try not to to judge them. It's likely to be very difficult for them to talk about these sorts of thoughts, so the best thing you can do is not judge.
Support them to get help
Asking for help can be a daunting prospect, and even more so if you're worried that you might be judged as a bad parent.
- Offer to help them arrange a doctor's appointment.
- Go with them to appointments. You could offer to look after their baby or older children, or help them plan what they'd like to talk about.
- Help them research different options for support, such as peer support groups or parenting groups.
Useful services and resources
Need help right now?
- NHS 111
Further resources & services:
- Hampshire Lanterns are a group of mums who have experienced mental health problems during pregnancy or after child birth. They aim to support each other via the internet and group meetings so that no mum should have to suffer alone.