Now imagine being an expecting mom who’s already facing so many unknowns about the birthing process. Add to this the potential loss of family and friend support thanks to sheltering-in-place orders and fears of exposing herself and her baby to COVID. Not to mention an in-hospital delivery where she might have to be alone (depending on COVID rules). It can be maddening.
Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders are on the rise due to Covid-19
According to the American Psychological Association, about 1 in 7 mothers experience what used to be called postpartum depression and what’s now known as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs): an umbrella term for a wide variety of mental health conditions that can affect new and expecting moms, one of which is postpartum depression.
PMADs are caused by neurobiological factors (hormonal fluctuations accompanying pregnancy and delivery), as well as environmental stressors (sleep deprivation during the early days with your new baby). Now, fears about the health of their unborn child or infant, plus the consequences of taking preventive measures like social distancing is adding a whole new layer of stress.
This is especially true for women already struggling with anxiety, depression, or trauma. PMADs also have a marked effect on vulnerable groups such as single moms, teen moms, and women who are struggling financially and are left alone to provide 24/7 care for their child while dealing with mounting bills and food insecurity.
A lack of social support after birth does not bode well for new moms
Health providers know that women who lack social support after the birth of their child are more likely to develop postpartum depression. Black communities pose special challenges because they have been hit disproportionately with Covid-19, making black women more likely to suffer from postpartum depression and less likely to receive treatment for it.
Psychiatrists around the world are reporting an increase in intrusive worrying, obsessions, compulsions, feelings of hopelessness and insomnia in new and expecting mothers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pregnant women are voicing fears about Covid-19, including:
- Delivering without a support person
- Being one of the 15% of pregnant women who are COVID-positive and asymptomatic
- Having to be separated from her infant and recovering after delivery without the help of family members or friends
- What to do if there are other kids at home and the only person who can provide childcare is a grandparent who would be considered high risk?
- What precautions to take if her partner is a healthcare worker?
- Wondering if it’s okay to send older kids back to daycare
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression and other maternal mental health conditions?
Symptoms of maternal mental health conditions include
- Those commonly associated with depression (feeling sad, hopeless, and alone)
- Anxiety (feeling overwhelmed, worried, or fearful)
- Having scary thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby. Please know that having scary thoughts does NOT mean that you’re going to act on them
- Feeling exhausted, but you can’t sleep, even when the baby sleeps
- Feeling like you are drowning
- Feeling overwhelmed with rage. (This one is often focused on your partner)
- Feeling like the worst mother in the world
- Feeling like your family would be better off without you
- Feeling guilty for having these feelings
Some women are simply at higher risk for maternal mental health challenges
Women’s health experts have identified well-known risk factors for mental health challenges. These include
- Having a personal or family history of anxiety or depression
- Having a sensitivity to hormone changes
- Lack of social support (especially from a partner)
- Having a traumatic delivery
- Having major life stressors (like the coronavirus outbreak, financial stress, the death or illness of a loved one)
- Having a history of a prior maternal mental health condition
- Being of lower financial means
- Being a woman of color
- Having your baby in the neonatal intensive care unit
There’s good news! You can recover from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders
Maternal mental health conditions are usually temporary and highly treatable. Getting better can involve a combination of self-care, social support, therapy, and perhaps medication.
Self-care tips to help battle perinatal mood and anxiety disorders
Being a new mom, caring for a newborn, and managing a household and family is daunting enough, imagine doing it while anxious or depressed. New moms should focus on:
4 to 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep is the best thing a new mom can do to start feeling better. By handing off just one nighttime feeding, you can achieve this stretch of sleep.
Eat every time the baby eats. Water and a high-protein snack will help keep you nourished.
Walking outside will give you not only much needed physical activity, but also a mood-boosting change of scenery, fresh air, and Vitamin D from the sun.
Take time off
New moms need some time to rest and recharge, especially if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Take the time for a long shower, reading a magazine or zooming with a friend. These simple acts will go a long way toward recharging your batteries.
Being at home with a newborn can be socially isolating, especially during this pandemic, and this can increase feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression.
Luckily, there many online support groups available that provide a safe space to share in a non-judgmental setting where you will be listened to, supported, and encouraged by women who are experiencing similar issues.
Leaders of these support groups are caring, empathic women who have been through many of the same experiences.
Talking with an objective mental healthcare provider about your doubts about your role as a mother and changes in your relationship and communication with your partner can help put things into perspective.
If you’re concerned about going to a clinic and risking exposing yourself to the virus, fear not. Telepsychiatry has come about as a result of the pandemic and now “virtual office visits” are fairly common. There are all kinds of evidence-based non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic interventions that can treat depression and anxiety.
Sometimes your doctor will prescribe medication to lessen your anxiety or depression. There are a number of medications for treating these symptoms that are safe to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
How you can help a new mom struggling with stress
If someone in your life is struggling, here are a few things you can do to help:
Ask a new mom how she is doing
Make sure to ask how SHE is doing and not about how the baby is doing.
Let the new mom know that what she is going through is more common than she thinks
Reassure her by telling her that many women have a tough time transitioning to motherhood and that help is available.
Give the new mom the gift of time.
Offer to take the baby so that she can shower or nap or just take a break. Offer to help with daily routines like folding laundry, doing the dishes, cooking dinner, or walking the dog. This will go a long way toward unburdening her physically and mentally.
Resources that pregnant and post-delivery women should know about
I’m urging all struggling pregnant women or new moms to not put off seeking help. It can be tempting to blow off your symptoms as stress because you see those around you stressing during this pandemic. Perinatal depression or anxiety is a real thing, and it will respond to treatment.
Postpartum Support International
If you feel you might be suffering from anxiety or depression, you should call Postpartum Support International’s hotline at 1-800-944-4773 or check the provider directory on their website to find a clinician who can help you. Their specially trained staff can provide support and information about local resources.
Explore available online resources
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an easy to navigate website with pages on:
Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance
The MMHLA’s website includes information about research and ongoing studies looking at the impact of COVID-19 during pregnancy and postpartum, along with resources for women experiencing PMADs.
About Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi
As one of the nation’s leading obstetricians, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecology and obstetrics care. Together with her warm, professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.