All new parents are at-risk for developing Postpartum Depression (PPD), sometimes referred to as Perinatal Mood Disorder (PMD) during pregnancy or after the birth of a new child. PMD includes postpartum anxiety and postpartum psychosis (very rare). But having a baby during a pandemic presents even more challenges for parents, as you navigate social distancing, isolation, and more.
So what can new parents do to combat PPD and anxiety during COVID-19? Let’s take a look.
Understanding Postpartum Depression
PPD is a mood disorder that affects one in five women, and new dads are at risk, too. PPD can be characterized by any of these symptoms:
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Lack of interest in baby, family, friends, and life in general
- Irritability or anger
- Overwhelming feelings of anxiety or sadness
- Feeling tired all the time
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of interest in things that would normally give you joy
- Thoughts of suicide
Many of us are already experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and depression as we navigate the challenge of living in a pandemic. New parents are especially at an increased risk due to:
- Stay at home orders
- Concerns about contracting the virus or spreading it to baby
- Pressure from friends and family to come visit the baby
- Not having supports in place after baby is born
- Supporting yourself during challenging times
Set realistic expectations: Many pediatricians are recommending you shelter in place with your new baby for at least two weeks during this pandemic. Ask your medical provider for guidance. Looking after your baby is going to keep you very busy, so try to be realistic about what other things you can do in a day and set practical goals. It’s also important to be realistic about your new role as a parent. Be easy on yourself—and remember, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. As you and baby settle into a routine and you come to understand your baby’s needs, your confidence will grow.
• Look after yourself: The demands of a newborn can make it hard to squeeze in the most basic of tasks, such as showering, eating, and sleeping. Your own needs are just as important as your baby’s. Your parenting partner can bring you something to eat and drink every time you sit down to feed the baby. If taking care of yourself seems hard to do, start small by making time each day to do at least one thing you enjoy, like reading a chapter in a book or writing in a journal—even just a half an hour can make a big difference in how you feel. In addition, try to spend time outside in nature and in the sun to increase your vitamin D intake. Your mood will lift by spending time in natural light, whether the sun is out or not.
• Talk about how you feel: If you are feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed share your feelings with your partner, friend, family member, or your doctor. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel like they are the only ones who are struggling—so remember that many moms and dads feel the same way as you. With in-person support limited at this time, many therapists and other parenting resources are offering virtual support, such as One-2-One Support and Baby Connection at Parenting Now, and postnatal support through WellMama.
• Organize practical help: If anyone offers to help you after your baby is born, accept! There are lots of things you can ask friends and family to do while still safely practicing social distancing, such as setting up a meal train and delivering food to your doorstep; arranging to get groceries for you; taking your dog on a walk; doing yard work for you. Think about what your needs are and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, your friends and family want to help—but they might need your guidance on what to do.
• Indulge in extra baby snuggles: It seems like a no brainer, but holding your baby produces extra oxytocin, aka the “love drug,” which can help boost your mood and increase attachment.
• Monitor your media intake: Avoid sensationalized news or anything you find unhelpful to your emotional wellbeing. Pick just a few trusted news sources to check in with during the middle of the day and avoid getting a heavy dose of the world’s events just before bedtime.
Find your social support
Social support is vital to new parents, but during a pandemic it is going to look slightly different. Ask friends and family to video chat with you whenever possible.
Telehealth visits and virtual group support are an option for parents looking to connect with health providers, parenting educators, and other parents. Currently, local resources such as Parenting Now, Healthy Families of Lane County, and WellMama are offering virtual support for parents. For a complete list of resources, visit https://resources.parentingnow.org/.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).