Becoming a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic

Proposed by Whatcom County Health Department

Adjusting to parenthood is difficult at the best of times, let alone a global pandemic. The need to stay away from others and hear daily information about the COVID-19 epidemic can increase feelings of anxiety and depression in new parents. Due to COVID-19, new parents may need to find new ways to get help from family, friends and community support.

About one in seven women will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety before, during or after pregnancy. It is the most common complication of pregnancy.

But mental health problems often go undiagnosed and untreated. Left untreated, it can affect the physical and emotional health of a mom, her partner, and the baby. The development of the baby can also be hampered. These impacts cost our families, our community and our workplaces, both emotionally and economically.

Risk factors for a bumpy adjustment to motherhood

We are surrounded by images of happy motherhood on television, in magazines and in popular culture. But many new mothers experience feelings of distress after giving birth. This is normal, as the responsibilities of being a new parent are difficult and exhausting.

A mother is more likely to experience emotional distress if she has:

  • History of depression or anxiety before or during pregnancy.
  • “Baby blues” that do not improve with personal care such as sleep, food or exercise.
  • Recent stressful events, including economic uncertainty.
  • Lack of support, from a partner or in general.
  • Difficult childbirth or health problems of the infant.

Poor mental health can affect women during any pregnancy or birth and women of any race, age or economic background. However, not everyone has the same access to help. Women of color, low-income and less educated women, and teenage mothers are less likely to be diagnosed and treated. Recent immigrants are also at greater risk. Fathers are also at risk for depression after the birth of a baby, and the risk increases dramatically when the mother is also suffering from depression.

What do feelings of distress look like?

Feelings of distress can begin at any time during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby. While the experience may seem different to each individual, many women go through things like:

  • Difficulty sleeping even when exhausted.
  • Scary thoughts like hurting yourself or your baby.
  • Feeling sad, numb, or out of touch with life.
  • Feeling anxious all the time and overwhelmed with worry.
  • More anger, rage and irritability than normal.
  • Guilt and shame for not bonding with their baby.

You or someone you love might show signs of having upsetting feelings most of the day, almost every day for two weeks or more. If this happens, get help.

Who to ask for help

With the COVID-19 pandemic, your plans for postpartum support from family and friends have likely been changed or canceled. Losing your support system can make the transition to parenthood more difficult.

Fortunately, help is available from family, peers and providers. Due to COVID-19, the medium looks different. Many providers use telehealth tours for most of their visits. Support groups have come online. Check out the resources below for providers, support groups, and ways we can all support parents and families:

Photo courtesy of PeaceHealth

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About Annie Baxley

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