by Dr. Lindsay Malloy, co-founder of Pandemic Parenting
I’ve been thinking a lot about the moms-to-be and new moms, bringing babies home and dealing with COVID postpartum. I know all too well what it’s like to cope with a mysterious virus and so many unknowns while expecting.
Almost 4 years ago to the day, my OB called me with startling news: I had just tested positive for the Zika virus. I was 7 weeks pregnant with my second child. The novel Zika virus, which was transmitted via mosquitos, was capturing the attention of the world primarily because of its potentially devastating effects on fetal development.
So, my world stopped.
I could barely eat or sleep as I waited for the next set of tests.
About 6 weeks later, I learned that my test was a false positive. But the stress of this experience – and the next 7 months of fearing this new virus that was circulating in my area – took a psychological toll on me and my family. I can’t say that I know what it’s like to be pregnant during a pandemic, but I remember all too well trying to cope with a mysterious virus and so many unknowns while expecting.
Although much more research is needed, the good news is that what doctors have learned about COVID-19 and pregnancy so far is generally reassuring – at least medically. But already studies are reporting increases in depression and anxiety among pregnant and postpartum women since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Here are 4 key things you should know about depression and anxiety if you are pregnant or postpartum during COVID-19 (or care about someone who is):
- Be familiar with the signs of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. And make sure others close to you know them, too.
Most people have heard of postpartum depression (PPD). You may already be familiar with the signs of PPD and know to look out for them in the weeks and months following pregnancy. Partners should be given information about what to look out for, as well. But, postpartum anxiety…? Is that really a thing?
Yes, it definitely is. And it affects approximately 10% of women. And yet, compared to PPD, postpartum anxiety (PPA) gets very little attention and its symptoms may be overlooked by new moms and their families. Although some symptoms (for example, difficulties or changes in eating and sleeping) of PPD and PPA overlap, PPD tends to be associated with feelings of sadness, loss of interest in things that usually make you happy, and withdrawal from family and friends; whereas, excessive or irrational worrying, racing thoughts, and physical symptoms like nausea are more characteristic of PPA. Read more about the differences between postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.
2) Recognize that you are not alone.
Approximately 1 in 7 women will experience PPD, PPA, or both. In other words, if you find yourself here, you are in good company. It doesn’t mean that you are a “bad mom” or that you love your baby any less. It means that you might need some extra help to get through this time, but you have millions of other moms before you.
3) Know that mental health support is often just a phone call or click away.
One potential benefit (yes, I said benefit) of the COVID-19 pandemic is the greater availability of remote therapy. Many therapists offer sessions online or via telephone, and you can get much-needed help without ever leaving your home or taking off your slippers. Having to find a sitter or travel with a newborn to an appointment may be a critical barrier for some women in need of mental health support, so leveraging technology in this way is a huge plus for taking care of new pandemic parents.
4) Take steps (literally!) to decrease your chances of developing PPD/PPA.
Some of the latest research coming out on pregnancy and COVID-19 shows that feeling more supported by others and getting rest and physical activity is linked with lower likelihood of depression and anxiety for new moms and moms-to-be.
The social isolation of new motherhood can be difficult in the best of times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this social isolation for anyone giving birth or adopting during this time. It is critical to form or maintain connections with others – and even better if those connections come with a bit of exercise, like a socially-distanced hike or a “walk and talk” on the phone. You may not be able to prevent experiencing symptoms of PPD/PPA, but hopefully, these research-based tips will reduce your risk and give you some relief as you adjust to your new normal. Being an expecting or new mother during a pandemic—or during any virus outbreak—is a different experience for everyone. That’s why we must care for ourselves and check-in with the mamas who need it the most.
Lindsay Malloy, Ph.D.
Dr. Lindsay Malloy is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Ontario Tech University, specializing in developmental and forensic psychology. She is the Director of the Development, Context, and Communication Lab and her research addresses how, why, and to whom children and teens disclose negative or traumatic experiences, as well as factors that influence children’s memory, deception, and narratives. She frequently provides expert testimony and consultation related to children’s communication about and memory of difficult events. Dr. Malloy is also a wife and mother of two young children trying to navigate all of the COVID-19 uncertainty with a little help from chocolate and Disney Plus. Learn more about Pandemic Parenting here.