To mark Maternal Mental Health week, we've teamed up with NCT to bring you advice on what to do if you're worried a mum mate might be going through more than just the baby blues...
You’re knackered, your hormones are all over the place and you’re overwhelmed by responsibility: that’s all par for the course when you’ve recently had a baby, and it’s why your mum friends, the ones who are going through exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, are so crucial.
But what happens if one of those mum mates seems to be struggling a bit more than the others? Here are a few signs that she could be suffering from postnatal depression (PND) or another mental health issue, like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and what you can do to help.
She’s exhausted, but she can’t sleep
“Sleep while the baby sleeps” is one of the most annoying clichés new mums hear. If only it was so easy, eh? Particularly when you have an endless flow of visitors to entertain AND a laundry basket full of seemingly multiplying baby socks.
But if you have a friend who’s really struggling to get her head down, or even mentions that she’s been having vivid nightmares, it could be a symptom of PND.
You could help by offering to entertain your baby AND hers for a couple of hours while she gets some rest. She might not be able to sleep, but just the time out and the kindness of your gesture will help her feel less overwhelmed, and give her time to reflect on how she’s been feeling.
Her eating habits have changed
It’s hard to eat a well-balanced diet when you’ve just had a baby, when your normal routine has gone out of the window and, well, frankly, every new mum deserves a Hob Nob or three.
But eating habits and mental health are hugely intertwined, with many people either comfort eating or, at the opposite end of the scale, experiencing loss of appetite when they’re depressed or anxious.
If you’ve spotted that your friend is displaying some eating habits that worry you, try and have a chat with them. The focus doesn’t have to be about food but maybe start the conversation with how you’ve noticed they haven’t quite been themselves lately.
You could also sensitively broach it with their partner. They’re likely to be taking charge of food during the early days but since they’re probably feeling pretty overwhelmed too, they might not be prioritising healthy eating.
It’s really hard to not feel like you’re interfering, but just mentioning that you’re a bit worried and asking them if your friend’s been eating OK at home could be enough for them to take action.
She’s not engaging in conversation
If you’ve got a gaggle of mum friends who get together en masse, it can be hard to have a proper chat – conversation threads are often left unfinished due to badly-timed baby meltdowns or unexpected nappy incidents.
Plus, less outgoing personalities can find themselves drowned out by all the chatter. But if one friend seems to be chipping in even less than usual, keep an eye on them.
You could always message them afterwards and say “Feel like I hardly got the chance to talk to you! How are things?” or even arrange a one-on-one meet-up to see how they’re doing.
If they’re struggling with their mental health, they might find it easier to open up away from a noisy group.
She’s really anxious about her baby
It’s totally normal to worry about everything from your newborn’s body temperature to the colour of their poo but, in mums suffering from PND and/or anxiety, these concerns can be heightened, to the point that they’re crippled by them.
This can lead to them being scared to do things that wouldn’t normally bother them, such as taking their little one out to the shops.
If your friend seems to be obsessing about their baby’s well-being and perhaps taking a lot of trips to the doctors about what seem like small things, it’s worth bringing it up with them directly – initially by reassuring them about what a wonderful, caring mum they are and saying that you totally understand how scary it is suddenly being responsible for a tiny human.
Get them chatting – and always encourage them to seek professional help if they could be experiencing PND. Lots of mums put on their "happy face" at baby groups for fear of being judged or labelled a bad mum if they share their true worries and fears. The more we talk openly and honestly about our mental health; the more chance we have of getting support. And who better is there than your mum mates to turn to?
To mark Maternal Mental Health week, Mush brings you this guide in association with NCT, the UK’s largest charity for parents. Mush and NCT have a shared vision: we believe no new parent should feel isolated and want to help parents build networks in their area. To provide information, support and a bit of entertainment for those long early days (and nights) with a new baby, we’ve partnered with NCT to bring you these special Mush guides. For more information about NCT, please see here.