Being pregnant or having recently given birth puts women at risk for anxiety and depression, and the chances are even higher due to the pandemic. What can you do?

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There are things you can do to ease the symptoms of depression or anxiety. But first, it can help to know that you’re not alone.

About 1 in 7 women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum. Those numbers are likely to have risen even higher during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

“The arrival of your first child is incredibly exciting but also overwhelming, and many of us turn to family and friends for support,” she says. Margie Davenport, PhD, associate professor at the University of Alberta, Canada, co-author of the report.

“With the necessary physical distancing associated with COVID-19, many of these supports are no longer possible, which can create an additional layer of stress for new parents,” she says.

The Davenport team surveyed 900 women. Of these, 58 percent were pregnant and 42 percent had given birth within a year.

Total:

  • 15 percent reported having depressive symptoms before the health crisis.
  • 40.7 percent reported symptoms since the pandemic began
  • before the pandemic, 29 percent say they had moderate to high anxiety, which skyrocketed to 72 percent during the COVID-19 crisis

While 64 percent engaged in less physical activity as a result of isolation measures, those who engaged in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise reported fewer symptoms. They had lower scores for both anxiety and depression compared to those who did not exercise.

The research has some limitations. The women were surveyed during the pandemic and gave a pre-pandemic perspective in retrospect.

And while validated scores were used to help women measure their levels of depression or anxiety, they were not officially diagnosed with the disease.

When Davenport began the investigation, quarantines and stay-at-home orders had already begun. Therefore, I expected to see an increase in depression and anxiety.

“However, I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the problem,” admits Davenport. “Nearly 3 in 4 women experience moderate to high levels of anxiety, and 2 in 5 experience a high likelihood of depression.”

“This really underscores the critical need for more maternal mental health assessment and treatment,” she adds.

Not only is staying home difficult, but women cut off from family and friends are cut off from much-needed support.

And even if you’re doing well mentally, the added hurdles that come with going to the doctor (for you or your baby) open the door to more stress, something that could turn into anxiety or depression.

Other factors hitting women hard include worrying about their baby contracting COVID-19 and how to get proper maternity care. Others out of work or working from home are struggling to balance that with motherhood and worry about what their work-life balance will look like in the future.

“The social and physical isolation measures that are critically needed to reduce the spread of the virus are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of many of us,” says Davenport.

Although there are challenges that come with being a pandemic parent, you can do things to ease the stress:

Know that you are not alone

Being aware that other people in your situation feel the same way can calm your nerves.

A preliminary 2020 survey of approximately 2,000 pregnant women in Canada found that 57 percent noted anxiety symptoms and 68 percent reported an increase in pregnancy-specific anxiety.

Use technology as support

Maintain social interaction through videoconferences and online chat groups can provide support during the pandemic. Also, use virtual doctor visits when you can, as it can take the worry out of going to a medical setting.

“You need to stay connected to healthcare as well as friends and family,” says Davenport.

If you are advised to seek care in person or are having difficulty accessing care virtually, it is important that you do not put off doctor appointments and contact your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.

Keep moving

Exercise can do wonders for dealing with difficult emotions, plus it’s great for you and your baby.

Try a prenatal yoga class or walk regularly to stay active. You may not be able to make it to a mommy and me class right now, but walking around the block can make a big difference in your stress level.

Get professional help if you need it

Talking with friends or family can help, but don’t feel bad if you need to see a therapist or consider medication.

“I hope that parents recognize how common it is to experience depression and anxiety during this time. Although it is common, it is still important to get a diagnosis and treatment,” adds Davenport.

plan ahead

Preparing to give birth can be stressful, and doing so during the pandemic adds even more challenges than other parents have ever had to consider.

Talk to your doctor or hospital ahead of time to learn what to expect when entering the facility and what role your partner or visitors may play. This can help take some of the anxiety out of the experience.

Yes, not being able to function as usual is hard, but it can give you more time to enjoy your pregnancy or love your little one.

“One of the wonderful positives of the pandemic that we are hearing from new parents is that they are able to spend more time with their growing family with fewer distractions,” says Davenport.


Kristen Fischer is a journalist, writer, and author. Her work has appeared in Health, Prevention, BabyCenter, and Parents. She is the author of the illustrated yoga book for children “Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids.” Kristen serves on the executive board of the National Association of Independent Writers and Publishers and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit it website. She lives on the Jersey shore with her husband, son, and many cats.