The first year after a new baby arrives is full of exciting milestones and lots of changes. For many new moms, these changes can be both physical and mental.
Women coping with a pregnancy-related heart condition endure all those common new-mom adjustments, but they also have additional needs. For some, pregnancy can be the first time they’ve experienced conditions that impact their health – and heart – such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, including more severe forms such as preeclampsia or eclampsia. While for others, pregnancy may have led to a new cardiovascular or mental health condition, including postpartum depression or anxiety.
No matter their diagnosis, a strong support system is vital for new moms facing cardiovascular disease. Family members and friends can offer reassurance, watch for warning signs of physical and mental struggle, and help out in several practical ways. Each woman’s diagnosis, symptoms, mental health and home life is unique, so cater the support you give a new mom to what she needs.
Here’s some of the best actionable advice you can implement today.
Listen up. Communication is always important when helping someone with a health problem. This is especially true when caring for a new mom with a cardiovascular-related condition. She may be feeling overwhelmed with doctor’s appointments, new routines or medical restrictions.
Be a supportive listener. Ask her if she just wants to vent or if she wants your input. Listening will help you learn how you can assist her.
Help with practical tasks. The daily to-do list still needs to get done in addition to the added stress (and joy) of caring for a newborn. Helping a new mom accomplish these tasks is a practical way to show your support. She also may need help prioritizing. Encourage her to postpone any nonessential tasks or appointments (but be sure to keep medical appointments high on the to-do’s!).
If you can’t be there to help in person, consider arranging an online meal sign-up or sending a gift card for a restaurant or cleaning service.
Make medical care easier. A medical diagnosis includes lots of new information for any patient. For moms, juggling all of that plus adjusting to life with a newborn can be overwhelming.
Offer to drive her to appointments or take notes when she meets with her health care professional. Keep an ongoing list of any health changes she’s experienced and questions for the next appointment.
Offer to find resources such as support groups or community services that can benefit her and her baby’s health. Visit goredforwomen.org/pregnancy for more pregnancy-related heart-health information or the maternal health forum of the American Heart Association’s Support Network at goredforwomen.org/maternalsupport to connect with others going through similar situations.
Keep an eye on mental health. Women face a risk of increased anxiety and depression during and after pregnancy. Watch for signs of mental health issues, including isolation, prolonged crying and erratic emotions.
Any mention of postpartum depression, self-harm or hurting the baby should be taken seriously. For emergencies, always call 911 immediately.
Remind her to enjoy life. Having cardiovascular disease doesn’t mean a new mom needs to live under a black cloud all day. In fact, taking time for activities she enjoyed before her diagnosis can recharge her. The time spent may also lead to better health for both her and her baby.
Some activities may be off limits until approved by a doctor. But focus on what she can do. Taking breaks during naptime, reading, watching funny movies, spending time outdoors or visiting with a friend are great options.
Bonus tip for friends and family: Caring for a new mom is an invaluable act of love, but it isn’t always easy. Make sure you’re managing your own physical, emotional and mental health by sleeping well, eating a nutritious diet and taking breaks. The Support Network Maternal Health Forum is also open to caregivers and loved ones, so reach out and connect with others to find more help and support.