For many new moms, those first few weeks and months of caring for your newborn can leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and sleep deprived. But, add a global pandemic into the mix, and you might be headed into a tailspin of emotions, anxiety and other mental health struggles.
You’re still grappling with this “new normal” during COVID-19, and now you have a new little human in your home depending on you. Although this should be an exciting time, you might feel lonelier more than ever before.
Your support systems—such as parents and grandparents—who usually help promote mental health during this vulnerable transition are missing. And you are also following self-isolation practices to protect yourself and your baby from possible exposure to COVID-19.
“For these reasons, a woman’s mental health can be significantly affected. She may notice increased or more frequent feelings of isolation, depressed mood, sadness, hopelessness, excessive worry, insomnia, lack of appetite and poor sleep,” said Lindsay Allen, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Center in Arizona. “Adequate support during this time is crucial, because maternal mental and emotional wellbeing are essential to creating a nurturing environment for baby and developing that lasting bond that will positively impact the child’s development and the relationship between mom and baby long term.”
Recognize the Signs
While mild depression and mood swings aren’t uncommon with new moms, maternal mental health disorders, such as postpartum depression and anxiety, are of increasing concern during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’ve recently had a baby and are experiencing anxiety and depression or are concerned you may have a postpartum mood disorder, Dr. Allen said it’s important to reach out for help.
“Be sure to follow up with your OBGYN physician following delivery,” Dr. Allen said. “Your provider has validated screening tools to help identify and treat patients who are at risk or may be suffering with these kind of mood disorders.”
While your loved ones might not be able to be there for you physically, Dr. Allen shared some additional ways you can reduce the impact of COVID-19 on your mental health. Despite the global pandemic, it’s important for you to still feel connected with others and share in the celebration of your new baby.
Focus on Self-Care
In the first few months of their little lives, it may seem like every waking (and sleeping) hour is spent feeding, burping, changing, swaddling, repeating. But remember to schedule in “you time” into this care loop.
Even though it can be difficult, especially if this is your first little one, put your baby down somewhere safe and take a moment—or more—for yourself. A regular routine—with time sprinkled in for yourself—can help aid in your recovery. It can be as simple as taking a warm bath or shower each morning, changing out of the clothes from the day before (put that shirt with spit up on it in the laundry!) or taking a moment to just close your eyes and take deep breaths for a minute.
Everyone can benefit from connecting with others. If you are feeling emotionally vulnerable, reach out to loved ones—even if you think you’d rather be alone. Set up video conferencing or video chats to connect and share your newest addition with family and friends—or just catch up with girlfriends. If it’s acceptable, set up time for family and friends to come see the new little one from a safe distance. While they may not be able to hold and breathe in that sweet baby smell, face time with others can help boost your mood.
Take a Walk
Small amounts of exercise, such as a walk around the block with the baby in a stroller, can help improve depression and anxiety. Even if there is a stay-at-home order and if weather permits, get outdoors and spend a little time soaking in the vitamin D. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you plan on exercising more, be sure to check with your doctor first to see if you’re physically ready to start.
Count Some Sheep
The stains on your little one’s clothes—and yours—can soak another day. The dirty dishes and bottles will be there tomorrow. Another Grubhub is perfectly fine for dinner. Now is not the time to overdo it and be overproductive. Right now, there is no better time to get your sleep.
Limit Social Media and News
In a hyper-connected world, we just can’t help ourselves from checking our phones for the latest information regarding friends, family and the world. While it may feel like Facebook and Instagram are keeping you “connected” with others and what’s going on around you, it can contribute to depression and anxiety and affect your sleep.
If you are nursing or feeding your baby in the wee hours of the morning, resist the temptation to check your phone. Instead, take this time to focus on holding and connecting with your baby. Check out this blog for strategies to keep your smartphone use in check.
Divvy Up Responsibilities
If you have a partner/spouse at home, discuss working collaboratively and divvying up responsibilities. Whether that’s letting them take on nighttime feedings or do some household chores, work out a schedule that gives you an added break to rest.
Recognize the Warning Signs of a Severe Mental Health Disorder
If you are experiencing racing thoughts, hallucinations, thoughts of self-harm or thoughts of harm to others, including the newborn baby, seek help immediately. Your mental and emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical health.
Call your physician’s office, seek help at the ER or there are several phone support options:
- AZ Postpartum Support Warmline: 888-434-6667
- Banner Behavioral & Mental Health Appointment Line: 800-254-4357
- National Postpartum Depression Warmline: 800-773-6667
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 480-784-1500 or 800-273-8255
Remind yourself that parenting is hard and it’s OK to ask for support from a loved one or friend. As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” While COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s way of life, we can get through this time by leaning on each other—even if we can’t physically do so.