Pregnancy and being a new parent during a pandemic
By Jess Hayes - 09/10/2020
How do you look after your mental health when you have a newborn, especially during a pandemic?
Parenthood can be terrifying. All of a sudden, you have to be responsible for the survival of a tiny human when you might barely feel able to take care of yourself. Add that to the fact that everything feels scary and uncertain in the world right now, and that your support and connections with others is a lot less than usual. These things might make this experience even scarier, at a time when you feel you should be basking in the glow of a new baby.
The first thing I am going to say is that, regardless of what is going on in the world, there should never be the expectation and pressure that you have to feel just happy when you have a baby. This is one of the biggest myths and if you speak to anyone who has had a child, or anyone who works with new parents, you will find out that it is 100% normal to have completely mixed emotions. Yes, happiness and love for that baby is likely there, but so might feelings of; anxiety, resentment, sadness, feeling overwhelmed and anything else. This does not mean you are failing at parenthood, it makes you human.
In addition to the sense of new responsibility, you might also want to consider; the lack of sleep, feelings of ‘I have no idea what the f**k I am doing 99% of the time’, the fact you just gave birth to an entire human which is a big deal and also leads to hormonal shifts in addition to your body recovering from the trauma of birth (for those of you who are mums). Your relationship might feel tested and you might feel alone at times. All of this is normal. Experiencing these things doesn’t take away the fact that having a baby can be incredible, and the quicker you realise this, the faster you can get rid of some of that guilt you might hold about how you feel.
COVID19 might make all of this seem even harder. Some of the things we know helps with all of the above is being able to get out with the baby, connecting to other people, and also getting some space. All of these things get more complicated in this situation but the important thing is to realise that they can still be done, even if they don’t feel the same as they might have. Here are some tips for your emotional wellbeing, and some additional adaptions to make use of them during a pandemic;
- Validate your feelings: As you may have noticed above, there are going to be a lot of feelings when pregnant and when you have a new family member. Some good, some tough. Expectations of how you should feel and not realising how many things impact on your emotions can make things a lot harder than they need to be. So let yourself feel what you will feel and try to remember that a rollercoaster of irritation, anxiety, happiness, love etc. are all part of the norm. If you feel able to talk about these openly then do, because this can help a lot.
- Recognise when you might need extra support: As I just mentioned, a rollercoaster of emotions is to be expected but sometimes things get really tough when they don’t need to be and they can lead to a lot of distress or to us feeling really overwhelmed. Postnatal depression for women has been talked about quite a lot and there is a lot of information available out there on this (see below for a starting point). It is normal to experience some low feelings after birth, but there is a lot of help available if you feel particularly low, numb, or find it hard to connect with the baby. This also applies to other parents too, who might experience similar low mood and can also ask for help. Less talked about mental health difficulties are postnatal anxiety and postnatal OCD. Both of these are anxiety based and you might experience some distressing thoughts or feelings of panic (see more information in the links below). Within the pandemic, you might feel even more anxious about the baby’s health or leaving the house, or you might get more fixated on cleaning things. Try to keep an eye on this and reach out if it starts to have a big impact on how you feel and on your ability to do things.
- Connect with other parents: Something vital for mental health in pregnancy and as a new parent is to connect with others at the same stage as you. Having someone who is right there with you as you experience each milestone (even a couple of months can make a difference so it is ideal to link in with those at the same stage of pregnancy/with the same aged baby) can be incredibly helpful. Parenthood naturally sparks a lot of worries because there is no manual, and it can feel pretty isolating at the best of times. Having a small group of people you can text at 3am during a feed and getting a response that they are up too can make you feel connected even when you can’t see each other. Sharing worries and experiences helps you to get advice and normalise fears. You can find this support in a number of ways; through pregnancy classes, baby groups, and there are even apps that you can now download to find local parents in your area to connect with. It might seem scary to approach someone but the benefits of these friendships can be incredible and last a lifetime.
- Connect with family and friends: It can take a village to raise a child, as the old saying goes. This doesn’t necessarily mean lots of childcare, but maintaining friendships and spending time with family can keep you grounded and help you to feel like yourself. Offers of help you might receive, such as family wanting to pick things up from the shop for you or a friend wanting to drop a meal off for you might lead to feelings of guilt, but taking them up on the offer not only helps you but also can give them a boost for feeling helpful themselves. During the pandemic, you might find it hard to connect with others as you might not be able to see them face to face, but try to make adaptions and link in via video chats, messages, and meeting for socially distanced walks if you can. In addition to this, if someone offers you some help, try to accept it. You are figuring out how to parent and this takes a lot of time and energy, so having less housework or fewer chores to do in the meantime will make this a little easier.
- Have boundaries: Not feeling able to have boundaries can have a huge impact on our emotional wellbeing. Although family and friends can be a big help and source of support, it is really important to put some boundaries in place when it comes to being an expectant or new parent. People get very caught up when a loved one is pregnant and with a new baby around, and they sometimes forget (or don’t realise) that the parents need time and space with their new family. Try not to be too reluctant to be firm with when people can visit and what you are comfortable with. Hearing advice from others can feel helpful at times but can also be overwhelming or impact on the confidence in parenting decisions. You can acknowledge their advice without being obliged to follow it, or can even thank them for trying to help but request that they limit advice on certain topics. This is your child, you will need time and space to decide on how to parent and it is absolutely your right to ask for this and to do what you feel is best for your family.
- Get out of the house: You may find that you have no energy and you might not want to get dressed. The baby might feel fussy and it might seem like too much effort to get them ready. But we know that fresh air can not only be amazing for the way you feel, it can actually settle fussy babies and help them to sleep. If you can get to a baby class or group to link in with others then that is great, but even going out for a walk can help you to feel less restless and can give your day some structure.
- Do things just for you: This can be a hard thing to start to do as you might not feel able to leave the baby at first or you might not have anywhere to go. If the guilt starts, try to remember that you doing something for yourself (no matter how small) will make you more likely to be able to be more patient and attentive than if you spend all of your time focusing on your baby. This can be anything from going out without the baby for a while, to having a shower that you don’t rush. Have a think about small things that make you feel good about yourself and start by figuring out how to include these regularly.
All of these tips are just a small starting point for ideas of how to look after your emotional wellbeing, and things to look out for in case you need extra support.
As mentioned above, it is really helpful to know what support is available and where to find it. If you need to talk through what is going on for you and want some information about how cognitive behavioural therapy can help, you can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or look at my main website for more information here: www.reimaginetherapy.co.uk
ReImagine Therapy can also offer signposting information and specific advice if you get in touch.
Other sources of support and information are available here:
- Your health professionals; the GP, the health visitor, and the midwife are all first ports of call if you or your partner need some extra support. They are there to help you to understand whether you might need some extra support with your emotional wellbeing and your health visitor can also help you with any questions or worries about the baby or taking care of them too.
- www.mind.org.uk - About maternal mental health problems "
- www.tommys.org - Getting help and support mental health