Under normal circumstances, pregnancy can be a stressful time for women. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, it brings a whole new set of worries and anxieties for mums-to-be and new parents, not least the worry of catching the virus and it affecting their growing foetus, the risk of pre-term labor and giving birth alone.
Pre-COVID-19, it was known that pregnant women can suffer badly from respiratory infections, because of the changes that pregnancy causes to their bodies and their immune systems .
Following the emergence of COVID-19, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that pregnant women have an increased risk of developing severe COVID-19, resulting in intensive care unit (ICU) admission and use of mechanical ventilation. This is especially true for pregnant women who are older, overweight, and have pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
One of the most important aspects of pregnancy is the chance to meet with other pregnant women at ante-natal classes, and so forming a support network to talk about everything pre-natal and beyond. In many cases the friendships formed are long-lasting.
During COVID-19, many ante-natal and delivery classes have been moved online, meaning that pregnant women, although being able to ‘e-meet’ other pregnant women might not forge the long-lasting friendships that other pregnant women have pre-COVID-19.
WHO advocates that: “All pregnant women and their new-borns, including those with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections, have the right to high quality care before, during and after childbirth, including mental health care.” This includes having your chosen support person present during delivery.
But with many hospitals also banning visitors to protect healthcare staff and other patients, policies for a support person during labor can vary from hospital to hospital. On the whole, most hospitals should allow one support person, but it’s always best to check the guidance at your local hospital.
A study by Feel Therapeutics performed over the course of eight weeks, at the height of the pandemic, found that negative emotions almost doubled and became more intense.
It’s little wonder then, that the ‘Pandemic-related pregnancy stress and anxiety among women pregnant during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic’ study , published in June 2020, found that during the pandemic, 79.9% of pregnant women were experiencing substantial anxiety, with 43.3% reporting moderate to severe anxiety.
Initial data from the COVID-19 and Perinatal Experience study (COPE), led by the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), revealed that 75% of women surveyed say COVID-19 has impacted their daily lives enormously from social isolation and loneliness to concerns about postnatal care and changes to medical appointments and hospital procedures.
Both studies suggest that interventions aimed at engaging women through remote pre- and postnatal care would help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety.
Incorporating healthy habits and sticking to a daily routine can help bring back some order into your life:
Your medical practitioner or midwife may be able to suggest online antenatal classes for you to join, which is a great way to meet and talk to other pregnant women who live in and around your neighbourhood.
A quick Google search will also help you find online support groups and forums, for both pregnant women and new mothers. These are another source of valuable information, especially if you have any worries or concerns.
And even if you can’t have your baby shower in person, stay in touch with friends and family through video chat and phone calls, which will help you feel less isolated.
Some people like meditating, some try deep breathing, some take a walk in the countryside, and others find gentle exercise helps.
If you find meditating by yourself difficult, why not download one of the many meditation apps that are available. There’s something for everyone from soothing noises, to guided meditations, and all are designed to help you relax.
And if you feel you need a little extra help and guidance to improve your emotional health, why not consider using an online mental health program such as Feel Relief, that gives you the skills you need to face life’s daily challenges with optimism, strength, and confidence.
There are plenty of ways to relax, but we are all individuals and what might help one person relax, may make another person even more stressed.
So find your thing, and make time to relax every single day.
Things will get better, but for now we need to look after ourselves the best way we can. And for the time being, that means wearing a mask, washing your hands, and keeping your distance.
 What We Know and Don’t Know About Coronavirus and Pregnancy — University of California San Francisco, April 6, 2020 (Nina Bai) Pandemic-related pregnancy stress and anxiety among women pregnant during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, June 2020, (Heidi Preis, PhD; Brittain Mahaffey, PhD, Cassandra Heiselman, MPH, DO, Marci Lobel, PhD)