Three Ways to Lower the Risk of Postpartum Depression during COVID
The pandemic has fueled feelings of isolation and anxiety, heightening the risk of postpartum depression in new mothers
Postpartum Depression (PPD), a common experience for new moms, can show up within a year of a baby’s birth. Many women suffer needlessly because the medical condition goes unrecognized and untreated, especially during the current pandemic.
Many preventative measures can help reduce the impact of PPD. And everyone can help new moms by recognizing the PPD symptoms and point them towards the help they need.
“Pregnant people are at higher risk of severe illness resulting from COVID 19, leading to increased anxiety and stress around risk of infection. And they also worry about transmitting the virus to their fetus. The social distancing measures have led to disruptions of the social support network, and isolation,” says Amritha Bhat, MBBS, MD, MPH. Bhat is a perinatal psychiatrist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington.
“The perinatal period is a time when you need your whole village around you and the pandemic has made this difficult. All of this has led to increased depression, anxiety and stress,” Bhat adds.
“I felt so much joy and nervous excitement when I discovered that my husband and I were going to have our first baby. But those feelings quickly changed with the start of COVID,” said Amber, a new mom.
“My pregnancy was nothing like I thought it would be. Instead of being able to share this experience with loved ones, I had Zoom calls and lonely ultrasound scans. Even after the birth of my baby boy, we couldn’t have family come meet him.
“I quickly discovered going anywhere with a newborn was intimidating. And the underlying worry of catching COVID increased my anxiety whenever I left the house. It just felt easier to stay inside and not bother.
“But I had to go to my son’s well-child visits. I felt so stressed and overwhelmed trying to navigate the trip with a newborn alone that I would forget to ask the pediatrician all my questions. And I couldn’t remember everything we talked about after the visit,” continues Amber.
Amber also struggled with nursing. She felt like a failure because her son didn’t gain weight as expected. And he had a hard time sleeping for longer than an hour without being held. The lack of sleep, on top of everything, put Amber on an emotional roller coaster. One moment she felt immense happiness. Then she would start crying, flooded with negative thoughts and emotions.
“I wasn’t sure if my feelings were ‘normal’ for life with a new baby, or because of COVID exhaustion. After about a month, I knew I needed help. This wasn’t normal for me. So, I confided in my mom. And she thought I was experiencing PPD. Other family members helped me find a therapist that offered virtual visits. Therapy gave me the tools to effectively deal with my anxiety and depression and to feel more present with my son. I also learned other helpful things I could do to take care of myself.
“Now I see that feelings of isolation from COVID probably made it harder. But it didn’t have to mean that I was alone. I learned you don’t have to suffer, there is help,” Amber said.
Learn the signs
First, contact your doctor, if any of the symptoms below last more than two weeks:
✴️ Your feelings:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, everyday
- Experiencing shame, guilt or feeling like a failure
- Feeling panicked or scared a lot of the time
- Having severe mood swings
✴️ Your everyday life:
- Having little interest in things you normally like to do
- Feeling tired all the time
- Eating much more or much less than normal
- Gaining or losing weight
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
✴️ How you think about yourself or your baby:
- Having trouble bonding with your baby
- Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
- Thinking about suicide (killing yourself)
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Second, take preventative measures — The healthy habits below can reduce the risk of PPD and help you cope with your new life:
- Exercise when you can. Walking with your baby in a stroller might be an easy way to get in some steps while breathing fresh air.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Eating nutritious foods can help you feel better and give your body the necessary nutrients you need. Chopped apple slices with peanut butter or cheese is an easy grab and go snack.
- Create time for yourself. Ensuring some dedicated “me time” each week to go on a walk, take a nap, or do some yoga can help you recharge. Let your partner or another trusted adult take the baby for an hour or two.
- Make time to rest. Poor sleep quality increases your risk for PPD. Take some actions to make quality sleep a priority. Try to take some naps throughout the day when your baby is napping. If nursing, consider pumping a bottle so a partner can take care of an overnight feeding.
Know help is out there
Third, have candid conversations — Don’t be afraid to share what’s going on with your family, friends, and medical provider so you get the care that’s right for you.
If you know someone that might be experiencing PPD, encourage them to seek help. You could save their life. Here are some resources that can help:
- Perinatal Support Washington Warm Line: Available to pregnant or new parents or their loved ones needing support, information, and resources about mental health. Visit their website or call 1–888–404–7763
- Hear Her: CDC campaign providing support to pregnant and postpartum people to speak up when something does not feel right.
Tiffany Tibbs Christensen, MPH, CHES is the Maternal Health Coordinator at the Washington State Department of Health. She is an advocate for equity and passionate about creating opportunities for pregnant and postpartum people and their families to live the healthiest life possible.
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