People love to offer tidbits of wisdom when you’re a first time mom. For the most part, these folks mean well and think they’re helping. But there are a few phrases that almost never help and in fact, they can be quite harmful – especially to those of us dealing with postpartum depression. At first I was thinking of a “What Not to Say to a Mom with PPD” list, but then I realized that A) some of these sayings may cause stress and anxiety to any new mom, regardless of her mental health status, and B) you may not even know that the mom you’re speaking to has PPD in the first place since a lot of women don’t speak about it. So in conclusion, I’d say you’re safe to follow these tips with all new moms you might know. Better safe than sorry when it comes to rubbing a hormonal, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed young mother the wrong way.
And so, without further ado, here are my Five Things You Shouldn’t Say to a New Mom.
1. Enjoy every second.
A lot of people tack this sentiment onto their good wishes. “Congrats on your new addition. Enjoy every second!” Seems harmless, right? NOPE!
First off, if there’s a mom out there who enjoys every single second of being a new parent, I’d like to meet her. And then I’d like to hook her up to a lie detector and watch as the machine goes bananas, because SUCH A PERSON DOES NOT EXIST. Even if you’re having a generally swell time with your newborn, at some point, you’re not going to enjoy it. You’ll get barf in your hair and poop on your face. These things aren’t enjoyable.
For moms with postpartum depression, being told you should enjoy every second is like a knife through the heart. It hurts. You already feel miserable, and guilty that you feel so miserable. You don’t need everyone telling you you should be doing a happy dance every time your little one screams for you at 3AM. Which leads me to the next thing I often hear that gets under my skin…
2. They’re only little for so long. Enjoy the extra snuggles!
Whenever a mom cries out that she’s exhausted because her baby only wants to sleep on her and she can’t get any rest that way, well-meaning people love to jump in and tell her how precious this time is and to soak it all up because one day her kid will be an ungrateful teenager and she’ll long for those early days. GAH. Not helpful! If a mom is looking for advice on how to improve her situation, and you just tell her to enjoy it instead, you’re completely ignoring her request and plea for help. She knows that this chapter in her kid’s life won’t last forever and that baby snuggles are wonderful, in theory. But she wants some goddamn sleep.
Offer to hold her baby while she rests, or lend her your magical sleep-inducing baby swing, or say/do whatever you think will help her. But don’t make her feel like she’s a bad mom for wanting a moment here or there where she can roll onto her stomach. Or go to the bathroom. Or do absolutely anything without a human attached to her.
3. Stop worrying so much. The baby feeds off your emotions.
Telling someone with anxiety not to be anxious is of zero help. Can you tell someone with cancer not to have cancer, and then it just instantly disappears? If that were the case, my life would have been a hell of a lot easier. Postpartum depression and anxiety is a mental illness. You can’t just tell someone not to have it, or not to feel a certain way. It’s not that simple. Not only that, but telling a mom that her emotions are going to negatively affect her child is a bad idea. You mean on top of worrying about my sanity, I now have to worry about messing up my kid as well? Thanks for putting a cherry on top of my guilt-filled sundae.
4. Sleep when the baby sleeps.
If you’re a mom, you’ve definitely heard this one before. And sure, it makes sense. When your baby sleeps, you drop everything and sleep, because otherwise you’ll never sleep. Easy peasy. EXCEPT IT’S NOT. Because when your baby sleeps, there are a million trillion zillion things to do that you can’t do when you’re tending to your baby. This is often when the rest of life happens, like ordering useless shit on Amazon that you’ve decided you need, answering an email, going to the bathroom, making a sandwich, cleaning the dozens of baby bottles in your sink, and washing all the barf and poop out of the sheets. Not only that, but not everyone is able to just fall asleep at the drop of a hat, the instant the baby is asleep. I’m not. And being told I needed to sleep constantly, by everyone, only made my anxiety that much worse — which in turn, made it impossible for me to sleep. Moms know that they need to sleep at some point in order to stay alive. You don’t need to tell them this.
5. You’ll know exactly what your baby needs. You’re their mama!
New moms are often told that they’ll know what their baby wants because they have a sixth sense built in that gives them an innate understanding of their child’s needs. I remember hearing/reading things like, “Your baby might be crying because he’s hungry, or tired, or sick. You know your baby best. Trust your gut!”
So you’re telling me I’ve known this thing for 24 hours, and I’m supposed to be able to tell the difference between a “I want more milk” cry versus a “I’m sick please take me to the nearest hospital” cry? THIS MAKES NO SENSE. And assumes that a mother is instantly bonded to her baby, which puts a lot of pressure on new moms who are raging with hormones and might not be feeling all that connected just yet.
My son is 14 months old, and I still often don’t know what he wants/needs/feels. Telling a mom that her spidey sense will kick in and she’ll instantly know all the answers is a load of poo-poo (yes, I only speak in baby terms now).
And there you have it! Five things not to say to the new mothers in your life. So what should you say? Try:
That’s the cutest baby I’ve ever seen! (note: it’s okay to lie for this one.)
Being a mom is hard. You’re doing a great job.
Hang in there. It gets easier.
I’m here if you want to talk.
I’d love to come for a quick visit. Let me know when you’re ready.
Can I pick up some groceries for you?
I’m happy to wash all those dishes sitting in your sink.
And if all else fails, cook her a meal, or bake her a treat, and leave it at the door because chances are she has no time to fend for herself when she’s so busy enjoying every minute and sleeping when her baby sleeps.