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In the age of the Coronavirus, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” isn’t enough to fully help pregnant moms navigate pregnancy, birth, and becoming a mother.  In the absence of a very necessary but absent guide (perhaps titled “What to Expect When You’re Expecting in a Freaking Pandemic”?), I’ve gathered some information and resources to help pregnant mothers manage their mental health.

Therapists are preparing for an increase in pandemic-related mental health issues brought on by fear, stress, isolation, loneliness, and economic distress for all populations, pregnancy being no exception. 

Due to the lack of information about how COVID-19 may impact pregnancy, prenatal care, hospital/birth policies, and the postpartum period, pregnant moms are experiencing an increase in fear and anxiety.

All of this uncertainty and fear is unsettling.  In the face of so much uncertainty, it’s helpful to focus on what you can control…which can include practicing coping skills and leaning in to self-care.  For some pregnant moms, it can be helpful to reframe this pandemic as an opportunity to practice self-care and coping skills that will come in handy with a newborn. 

Internal coping skills are more important than ever now that the pandemic has limited our ability to use our tried and true stress-reducing methods of connecting (in person,) engaging in group exercise, attending birth classes, spending time outdoors, and even the ability to be alone to recharge and decompress. 

It’s true that the pandemic may exacerbate stressors that can contribute to perinatal depression and anxiety.  And, there are opportunities to learn coping skills and get support.

Coping Skills:

  • Maintain social connections despite social distancing
  • Establish routines
  • Exercise – study after study has shown its mental health benefits
  • Learning and intellectual engagement – when you’re truly engaged in an activity, it distracts you from anxious/depressing thoughts
  • Create intentional, meaningful, and positive family time
  • Practice focused meditation and relaxation … my favorite resource is the Calm app
  • Maintain a sense of humor and avoid catastrophizing (jumping to worst-case scenario thinking)
  • Positive self-talk (“I can do this.  I am strong.”)
  • Focus on the present moment rather than projecting future worries (most anxiety is about something that might happen or something that already did happen – it is rarely about something currently happening, so try to focus on the current moment)
  • Practice tolerance of uncertainty … yes, there is a lot of uncertainty.  You can handle it.  You are strong.
  • Accept and mindfully notice anxiety, rather than fighting it.  Thank it for trying to protect you, then ask it to quiet down.
  • Connect to a higher purpose or cause
  • Remember: humans are resilient
  • Strengthen self-care and healthy lifestyle practices like sleep, exercise and relaxation techniques
  • Ask yourself: Where does anxiety show up in the body? How anxious am I? What do I fear most? What usually helps?
  • Limit time spent on news and social media consumption
  • Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your phone, try to do something restorative such as taking a bath or going for a walk.
  • Create a flexible birth plan and discuss it with your doctor
  • Seek professional help as needed

Resources:

Get Support:

  • Weekly Postpartum Support International support groups
  • Mother Care group: This is a difficult time to be pregnant or a mother of a new baby! Let’s soften the blow of this coronovirus time on mothers and babies, especially babies whose nervous system is still mylenating (first 6 months of life). I am offering an hour of connection and co-regulation for mothers and babies. Join me each Monday at 8 am Mountain Time. Start your week off with regulation of the nervous system, and then practices of the week for you and your baby:  
  • Julie Ciecior Therapy weekly Monday 11-12 support group
  • Weekly Virtual Mom’s Support group with Erin Hickman, LMFT Wednesdays at 9am
  • Belly Bliss: Free Virtual Prenatal Support Circle:  Come and connect with other moms-to-be at Belly Bliss’ Prenatal Support Circle. This is a warm and welcoming space in which to share the up and down emotions of impending motherhood. Come and join us to meet other local moms-to-be, ask questions, share experiences, and feel supported in a community environment! This group focuses on helping you navigate your way through this unique time.
  • Therapist Amanda Baker is offering a donation-based online support group for pregnant and postpartum moms.  You can contact her for more information at [email protected] or 719-660-3321
  • Childbirth education classes and free pregnant and new mom support groups via Carriage House Birth
  • Peer-to-peer mom support groups for new and expectant mothers suffering from perinatal mood disorders or are simply scared and stressed right now via The Bloom Foundation.
  • COVID-19 Maternal Well-Being Facebook Group started by Dr. Pooja Lakshmin MD (psychiatrist), Dr. Anita Patel MD (pediatrician) and Dr. Tara Abraham MD (OBGYN) to provide evidence-based information about pregnancy and postpartum during the pandemic and to give women a space to connect and support each other.
  • Postpartum Support International offers free online support groups, a searchable by location provider directory and a helpline (1-800-944-4773).
  • Support groups, health tracking tools, and one-on-one check-ins via Mahmee.
  • Up to date news and resources at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Women’s Mental Health.