In our “new normal,” many things feel uncertain, but pregnancy can take that uncertainty to a whole new level. Whether you, a loved one, or a friend are on the journey of parenthood, being informed can help you feel more prepared.
It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience higher than normal stress, disappointment, and/or anxiety due to different expectations of birthing during COVID-19. Those emotions can present in many different forms, and here are a few to note:
- Changes in appetite, sleep, and ability to concentrate
- Fear around receiving in-person prenatal care due to COVID-19 risk
- Fear that you or your baby will become ill with COVID-19
- Anxiety about giving birth without the people you consider important
- Feeling overwhelmed thinking about post-partum recovery due to certain COVID-19 restrictions
- Worry and sadness around shifting expectations of receiving support from friends and family after giving birth
If any of those feelings resonated, rest assured many other women and families are feeling the same pressure. And those feelings will likely have peaks and valleys due to the hormonal shifts normal in pregnancy and large life transitions. To manage anxiety around a pregnancy in this time, it can help to explore these steps:
1. Talk to your providers about the steps their practice is taking to protect their patients.
Many providers are limiting in-person clinic visits and utilizing telehealth. At some clinics, providers are only seeing prenatal patients for their initial visit, ultrasounds, appointments requiring labs (e.g., glucose tolerance test), and appointments during the final weeks of pregnancy. Patients already equipped with scales, blood pressure cuffs, and home doppler devices are being encouraged to monitor themselves in conjunction with their virtual visits to reduce risk even more. Clinics are protecting their patients during in-person visits by asking screening questions ahead of the visit and requiring patients come alone and wear masks during the visit.
2. Stay informed.
While too much media has been shown to stress us out, staying informed can help us feel more in control. Reading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for pregnant patients is a good place to start.
One thing to know off the bat is that there is no data linking pregnant women to a higher risk of COVID-19. There is also no evidence right now to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted through breast milk. If plan on breastfeeding and are worried about being falling ill, talk to your provider. With all this in mind, best practices still apply:
- Follow social distancing guidelines and all other precautions related to minimizing the risk of COVID-19
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially before and after touching your face or after being in a public space
- Use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer when not able to wash hands
- If you need to leave the house, wear a mask
- Avoid touching your face, and avoid physical touch with anyone you are not quarantining with
- If you have difficulty breathing or become ill, you should contact your doctor immediately
Before the baby is born, it’s best to discuss with friends and family when, how, and if you’ll be comfortable with visitors. Managing these expectations, both for you and the people you are close to, can be both practically and emotionally challenging, but are important for keeping everyone safe.
3. Keep practices that help to reduce your anxiety
Anxiety during life-changing events is normal, but there are many strategies to mitigating those feelings and reducing stress.
- Build a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can help us be more aware of our shift in thoughts and emotions. When we’re more aware of these shifts, we can take the necessary steps to manage them (like taking a break from what we’re doing to take a walk, get some water, or listen to a favorite tune.)
- Speaking of taking a walk, there are many self-soothing techniques you can use to engage the five senses: sit near natural sunlight, squeeze a stress ball, cuddle with a pet, massage your shoulders, take in the smells of scented candles or lotions, open a window, drink mint tea or suck on a sour candy, or chew on ice.
- Practice self-compassion. After all, there is no “perfect way” to give birth during a pandemic. Know you’re doing your best. Try the Quieting Your Inner Critic meditation.
- Create your Emergency Mental Health Kit for when things get tough. Know who you can call for support, keep your favorite de-stressors handy, and don’t be afraid to use tools like Journaling or Reframing in Sanvello to help you find calm.
Talk to your providers in advance about their practices, and don’t be afraid to check regularly. What may have been practices a month ago may have changed. Many hospitals keep labor and delivery in a unit that only treats expectant mothers and their infants, keeping them and L&D staff safely away from the other areas of care.
Most care facilities will have strict guidelines regarding their cautions around COVID-19 positive patients, including screening and testing of patients and visitors, limiting visitors, and use of PPE.
Make sure to ask your labor and delivery facility for their specific guidelines in regards to visitors and support persons. Austin-based Certified Professional Midwife, Nikki Marterre, states that policies vary from hospital to hospital. “Some are allowing doulas, but many are only allowing one support person.” It is important before giving birth to decide who your support person will be and communicate your choice.
You can always lean on technology to connect with loved ones during labor, an extended NICU stay, or post-delivery. Make use of video calls to communicate with family and support persons. Getting texts and emails of congratulations may not be the same as hugs and kisses, but they’re still a great way to feel the love.
Family and friends will likely not be able to help like they previously could. Even leaning on neighbors in a pinch will feel different than it did before. This can feel incredibly stressful, so identity a support person who can help.
Your support person should be able to do a few things for you:
- Help you plan and schedule for child care, restorative self-care breaks, and household chores
- Be the point person for communication and triaging “How can I help?” requests from family and friends
- Give instructions to all friends and family regarding care packages, gift cards, food, and more
Technology can help here, too—there are many pregnancy and baby apps that offer communities of support, including ones organized by your due date month. This can be a great way to get support from a community of parents of children close in age to your little one and in a similar post-partum stage.
It’s important to remember that in late pregnancy and in post-partum, shifts in hormones and immune function can place women at higher risk for anxiety and depression. It can be easy when tending to a new baby to forget to tend to yourself. If you’re experiencing difficult emotions, don’t be afraid or ashamed to call your doctor for advice. You’re giving birth during unprecedented times — it’s not only OK, but completely normal to feel stress. Lean on the anxiety-mitigating skills you learned before and during pregnancy to keep you afloat, and take advantage of technology to get the emotional support you need.
By Giselle Alexander, LCSW
I’m a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years of providing culturally appropriate psychotherapy and social services to individuals and families. I received my clinical license to provide psychotherapy in 2010. My training and experience come from a varied background of working in community mental health, social services, and private practice with individuals and families grappling with severe and persistent mental illness, anxiety, depression, grave disability, and end of life transitions. When I am not connecting with my clients, I enjoy the outdoors, dancing, cooking, and spending time with my family and my rescue dog, Maggie.