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Hi,

This is about my baby sister, who just had her first baby at 23. The pregnancy was unplanned and the relationship was new, but her new boyfriend and her decided to make it work. My sister dropped out of college for this and now... Every time I talk to her,  I get the impression that she is not happy. Her relationship seems tumultuous.

I have been wondering if she has postpartum depression and even asked her about it, but she says no, she is fine. Either her relationship is breaking down and she is depressed about that, or she has postpartum depression.

But my sister won't talk to me about it, or is in deep denial. My question is, how does a person recognize the signs of postpartum depression in themselves, and how does a person fight with it? How can I get through to my sister?

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Well, there is the catch 22, isn't it? People often ask what they can do to help people they care about who are suffering from postpartum depression, but unless you are that person's partner, you're really not in any position to do anything but listen to them.

For all you know, your sister could have postpartum depression. Or she could have relationship problems, like you say, or she could be dealing with unrelated stress. Or she could even just be adjusting to being a mother. The best you can do from a relative distance is to be there for her. Leave the judgment out of it, because that might cause your sister to just not want to talk to you.

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Some moms with postpartum depression readily recognize the signs and immediately seek help. I think it helps that postpartum depression is covered quite well these days, on the internet, in books, and in parenting magazines. Just knowing that there is such a thing as postpartum depression makes people much more likely to realize that there is something wrong, and also often exactly what is wrong. 

Some women genuinely don't recognize postpartum depression though. They might think what they are feeling is normal for their new stage of life. I'm not sure if it makes sense to gift your sister a parenting book that also covers postpartum depression?

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See, if you were asking about yourself, I'd just say: go over to any diagnostic criteria list for postpartum depression, be honest about your feelings, and examine whether your own symptoms fit the bill. Then if they do, go to your OBGYN or family doctor and say, "Hey, guess what? I think I have postpartum depression."

It's harder when you think someone else has PPD, but they don't agree. The best you can do for such a person is to help them out in any way you can. This is nice for any new mother, really. When I had my babies, either my mom or one of my sisters came to stay for a few weeks to a month. They made sure I had the opportunity to rest, have meals cooked for me, they took me shopping for baby clothes, they made sure I got out the house for walks... I have a large family, and this is just how we do things. Whenever someone has a baby, a relative comes over to help out. 

I dare say that that used to be normal, and now it isn't, and the lack of support new moms face is one of the reasons some develop postpartum depression. Looking after a newborn all by yourself while recovering from pregnancy and birth is objectively hard. Fathers usually need to work, or if they get parental leave, it's only for a week or so. That means a new mom is alone with a ton of responsibility and, frankly, boredom. It shouldn't be that way. 

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Some good points are being made here.

Social support IS one of the crucial factors in helping a mother suffering from postpartum depression overcome her depression. Raising a baby is inherently stressful, as is feeling alone and isolated. Your sister being in a fairly new relationship and being young only make things harder!

I am not sure what you can do, but the way to, as you say, fight postpartum depression is through the treatments that are proven to work. Those are therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, and, often, antidepressants. To benefit from those, a person with postpartum depression still has to reach out for help first.

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On the other hand, you can't even be sure your sister does have postpartum depression. Do you see her in person, or do you just talk on the phone or through the internet? Could it be that your sister just needs time to adjust, and that she is under the normal amount of stress associated with motherhood and her general life situation?

Ultimately, the only people who can answer that question are your sister and a healthcare provider qualified to diagnose postpartum depression.

Maybe you could gently encourage her to talk to her doctor about any off emotions she is experiencing?

Rosie

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The signs of postpartum depression you may notice in someone you love are:

1. Appearing depressed, mood swings, a defeatist attitude, anxiety. Isolating themselves from those who love them.

2. Appearing confused, unable to concentrate, not being very organized at all. 

3. Loss of appetite, or overeating to try to cope. Sleeping all the time or not sleeping much at all. 

Those symptoms do match what you describe, OP. In addition, you mention several risk factors for postpartum depression, the unintended pregnancy and unstable relationship. I don't think you're weird to suspect that your sister had postpartum depression at all. 

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Is there any way you can physically help your sister?

People always say: when someone has postpartum depression, cook for them, clean their house, do their laundry, offer to babysit. It sounds so trivial, but it really can help. Only the person with PPD can get treatment, but support from people in their lives is also really important to them, and to have the daily tasks that they feel unable to do themselves taken care of can make a huge difference. 

Also keep telling her she isn't in this alone. She has people who care about her and who will help her get through this. 

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When you say that you get the impression that your sister is not happy and that her relationship with her boyfriend is tumultuous, how are you getting those impressions? Is this something your gut is telling you, or is she actually saying that she is unhappy, does she cry, or do you see her fight with her boyfriend?

I'm asking because your gut can sometimes be wrong. Maybe you think your sister's boyfriend isn't good for her and you'd rather she hadn't had a baby with someone she just met, and that is giving you that impression. If your sister is telling you she is unhappy, that is another matter, however.

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