The question: My friend just had her first baby. I told her to call if she needs anything, but we haven’t been in touch much lately. Should I keep approaching her in case she really does need help, or give her some space and trust she’ll contact me when the time is right? I don’t have children, so I’m not really sure what to do.
The answer: As the only childless friend among a group of women who have all had their first rugrats pop out over the last year, I get the feeling of helplessness that comes along with not knowing quite what to do. My simple answer: Ask her what she needs from you.
Having a baby – particularly the first one – is a huge life transition. It can feel overwhelming, and it often takes months for first-time moms to adjust to their new life and schedule. Adjusting to her newfound role of being completely responsible for another person’s life is a huge transition. Learning all the intricacies associated with parenthood, not to mention the inevitable challenges of feedings and multiple diaper and outfit changes, can fill the days in a way that most moms never expect or predict. All of this is compounded by a level of sleep deprivation that most women haven’t before experienced.
If your friend is like most moms, a combination of all of the above is likely responsible for the reduced contact you have had from her. I confess, I never fully appreciated the demands until I saw some of my own (highly competent, high-functioning, multitasking) friends repeatedly describe how they have no idea where the days go the first few months after giving birth. I had to tell myself the reduced contact was not at all personal, and instead a side effect of them being thrown into a 24/7 job that comes with no orientation manual!
The first month post-birth is particularly challenging. Most moms will experience the “baby blues” which, in addition to low mood, can include a feeling of emptiness or flatness. Withdrawal from others is a natural response within these early days and weeks. On a positive note, the overwhelming majority of mothers will find their mood improves within the first month, once the myriad hormonal changes that occur postpartum stabilize.
If she’s like many new moms, she may not even have a sense of the infrequency of your contact. (Think of times when you have been extremely busy or preoccupied with something that takes most of your attention, and how you lose sense of how fast time has gone).
Strike a balance between maintaining regular contact with her (so that she knows you are there for her) with letting her have space to adjust and grow. In our current day and age, e-mailing and texting is a great way to stay in regular contact. In your communication with her, try to not add to her present burden. Instead, validate how challenging things may be feeling (“Thinking of you, let me know if there’s anything I can do”).
If you have any reason to suspect that she is significantly struggling with persistently low or depressed mood, reach out to her more strongly than you may otherwise (about 1 in 10 women will develop clinically significant levels of depression). Social support is tremendously important and serves as one of the best buffers against chronic mood issues. Let her know you are concerned about her and want to help. If you have significant concern, speak to her partner or a family member that can help. If there is ever any concern about her risk to herself or to her baby, immediately call 911.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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