In honor of May as Maternal Mental Health month, Helena’s Maternal Mental Health Task Force, in partnership with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, would like to highlight ways that communities can support moms during the postpartum period.
While holding a new baby is exciting, it’s the birthing person that truly needs to be held, loved and supported in this golden but vulnerable time. Their body and mind will have run the ultimate marathon and they will need support. If the mother is well supported during this time, she can care well for the new baby. If you’re visiting in the first weeks, remember you are there to support the parents. Remind them they don’t need to host you and that you are there to help.
Always ask parents before coming to visit. In the blur of the first few weeks, flexibility is best! Remember: New babies have no sense of night or day, so parents may be sleeping with their little ones at noon after being up all night. If they say they are welcoming visitors, when you get to their house, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby. Babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. Offer to bring by healthy snacks or a ready-to-heat nutritious meal. New moms, especially those breastfeeding, will be hungry often as it takes much energy to care for newborns. If they feed the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack (then, maybe do the dishes).
Look around the home for things that need to be done; laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, etc. If there are older children in the house offer to watch a movie with them or take them on a walk. Always ask the parents if it’s OK to hold the baby, as some new parents feel most comfortable holding their babies and being supported in other ways. If they say yes, encourage them to take a shower or quick nap while you’re there. Ask new parents what they need, they will likely tell you. Finally, don’t overstay. Parents during this time are heavily exhausted, and even well-meaning company can make parents feel the need to entertain. An hour or so is plenty in those first few weeks, unless the parents ask otherwise!
Keep in mind that the #1 complication of birth is postpartum depression. One in six Montana mothers will experience it. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mood disorders in the postpartum period increases the likelihood of treatment. Some things to look for include sadness, guilt, inability to make decisions, poor self-care, low self-esteem, mood swings, appetite changes, excessive crying, and more. While only a health care provider can offer treatment, if you, or the new mom in your life, is experiencing any of these symptoms, encourage them that it’s not their fault they feel that way, and that help is available through their obstetrician or primary care physician.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic may have made the experience of having a little one more nerve racking. Families may have varying levels of comfort having multiple visitors during this vulnerable period of recovery. Ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors. If they aren't, you can still support them by dropping off easy-to-heat meals, or sending a gift card to doordash, grubhub, or their favorite restaurant.
Families in the postpartum, or fourth trimester, thrive with healthy community support. Additionally, moms are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and babies have better health outcomes. Together, we can ensure that parents have a positive postpartum experience.
Emily Clewis is program and communications coordinator for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Montana.