Pregnancy in the age of COVID-19
Are you pregnant or about to give birth?
Are you pregnant and living in an area under lockdown due to the Coronavirus control measures put in place by your State Government? Perhaps you are giving birth in a hospital during lockdown and there are restrictions and measures in place which are causing you anxiety.
Eliza Strauss, Melbourne Birth Suite Midwife and Co-founder of The Perinatal Loss Centre, offers some ideas and suggestions for surviving this difficult period, as well as sharing some surprising positive outcomes …
We are living in exceptional times. When a woman announced news of her pregnancy late last year or at the start of 2020, she would not have anticipated that she’d be giving birth during a Pandemic. Coronavirus has caused enormous concern, fear, and anxiety for many women who are pregnant and about to give birth. But Coronavirus has also caused us to stop, pause, and reassess.
The cataclysm around the world as Covid19’s health effects become more apparent, are worrying and are a wakeup call for why harsh rules and restrictions are being implemented here, and elsewhere.
Sadly, for pregnant women, partners, and their families, there are additional negative impacts to those commonly reported in world media. It is clear, and understandable, that these women are anxious about the health of their babies, their own health, and the impact on their impending labour and birth. Many questions are at the forefront of their minds such as:
- What are the health implications for me and my baby during pregnancy if I become sick with Covid19?
- When it comes time to give birth, will my partner be able to be with me?
- When will I be able to introduce my baby to his grandparents?
- If I get sick with Covid19, will I pass it on to my baby?
- After the baby is born, can I still breastfeed if I have respiratory symptoms?
- How will I cope with a new baby when my parents won’t be able to help us?
These are all legitimate concerns, and the powers that be are doing their best to provide up to date information as it becomes available to try and allay some of these fears and worries.
WHAT YOU MAY BE FEELING OR EXPERIENCING WHILE PREGNANT DURING LOCKDOWN …
Pregnancy is an uncertain time and can be a stressful event in and of itself. Throw a pandemic in the mix, and it’s no wonder that many expectant parents displaying increased anxiety levels and are seeking answers to their concerns. While there is no prescriptive list, during the Coronavirus pandemic you may be experiencing a range of emotions and feelings including anxiety and fear, hypervigilance, hyperarousal and a sense of dread while in lockdown.
This is normal. It is normal to feel some anxiety during this very difficult period while you are pregnant and waiting for the impending birth of your baby. You may find your anxiety levels increase when you go to hospital to see your masked Midwife or Obstetrician/GP for antenatal appointments; when you see something distressing on the television or if you experience respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath (which can be a common symptom of pregnancy).
It is important to check in with yourself and your stress levels to assess the impact it is having on your life. Ask yourself,
- “Are my stress and anxiety levels increasing as the pregnancy progresses … ?
- Is stress and anxiety impacting upon my daily life … ?
- Am I constantly thinking & worrying about the health of myself and/or my baby … ?
- Can I keep these thoughts and feelings in check, or do things feel out of control … ?
- Am I constantly checking the news, social media and google for information … ?
- No one is able to reassure me, and I find myself catastrophising* everything I see, read, hear … ? “
(*To catastrophise is to view or present a situation as considerably worse than it actually is. SANE Australia, 2020)
Please know there is support available to you during this intense period of uncertainty for those of you who are pregnant, about to give birth or have just given birth.
I urge you to reach out to organisations who have reshaped their support and advice during Coronavirus (Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence), PANDA, Beyond Blue, Red Nose etc).
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO IN THE MEANTIME TO TRY AND REDUCE YOUR STRESS & ANXIETY?
Even short moments of connecting to an internal sense of calm and safety will be beneficial, helping you reset and find the middle ground between overwhelm and calm.
And remember, it’s not all bad!
Living through this pandemic has been tough. Interestingly there have been a number of positives that have come from these difficult times. In this next section, I share with you what we as Midwives have noticed, and what parents have shared with us.
A Midwife’s Perspective:
- In the past, we have seen friends and family rush into birth suite (sometimes in their droves) to excitedly meet the new baby. This can unfortunately interrupt the profound and important early bonding parents need with their babies. During the Pandemic, we have seen some beautiful uninterrupted, unrushed moments between women, their partners and their new babies shortly after birth. This is an unrepeatable window and a moment to savour which can now be extended.
We have seen breastfeeding moments savoured, and increased time spent getting to learn newborn cues & behaviour. This learning is vital in the first hours following birth when the newborn does what it knows it needs to do, and mums follow their lead.
- It allows us time as Midwives, to point out these innate cues that are sometimes missed when a new mother is concerned about covering up and cleaning up to be ‘ready’ for visitors
- Breastfeeding can be established sooner as milk production can potentially increase due to less interruptions and more frequent feeding sessions
- Babies are possibly returning to their birthweight quicker. We assume this is because of more regular feeding but research needs to be done.
- New mums and dads/partners are able to rest, safe in the knowledge that they will not be interrupted
- Receiving visitors is tiring. We are noticing that mothers are getting more sleep and increased opportunities for rest time, resulting in less anxiety, lower levels of tiredness, and increased confidence in parenting their babies
- Babies are seeming more settled. They are not being passed around between family members and friends for a cuddle. Although this is a lovely part of being a new parent, some babies can be more sensitive to this handling than others
INCREASED CONFIDENCE LEVELS
- New parents appear more focused on listening and learning from the suggestions of Midwives. They are having longer sessions with the Postnatal Midwives in parenting tips and tricks. This appears to be resulting in an increase in confidence levels, better preparing these parents for leaving hospital and being independent at home when caring for their new baby
A parents’ perspective:
It has been reported by some parents that they feel -
- less anxious with regards to possible infections being passed to their new baby from friends and family. For example, some have felt apprehensive asking family and friends if they have had an updated Whooping Cough or Flu vaccination, and have therefore felt reassured that this risk is lowered in the early days when their baby has lowered immunity
- less rushed to spend time alone with their baby knowing visitors won’t be coming in
- they thought it would be a stressful experience due to the restrictions, but that their experience was better than they could have imagined
- well supported and cared for by the hospital staff with regards to making them feel welcome and excited to be there
- Many parents are grateful that visitors are not allowed. Many new parents are hesitant saying “no” when asked by a family member or friend if they can come in to meet the baby. Now that it is not possible, they no longer feel torn and guilty
- As one mother recently stated “No visitors ……. It’s frickin brilliant”!
LOWER RATE OF PREMATURE BIRTHS (?)
- Lastly, there is some anecdotal evidence from certain countries that there are less cases of severe premature births. While rigorous research needs to be done on this, this is indeed an interesting finding from some NICU’s in some countries. It has been speculated that this finding could be due to pregnant mums resting more at home; experiencing less stress from their work environments and less commuting; getting more sleep; receiving more support; avoiding certain serious infections by not being out in public &/or a reduction in air pollution due to less cars being on the roads. Watch this space for more research findings on this.
Although these are stressful times for pregnant women and their partners, there are a number of potential positives that expectant and new parents can draw upon. Stop, pause, and reassess. You and your baby can do this!
Eliza has shared her thoughts and tips in good faith. She has been a Nurse & Midwife for over 30 years and although she has a wealth of experience, any advice or suggestions here should be followed up with advice and support from your Doctor or Midwife with regard to your pregnancy and the specific medical and emotional care you and your baby require. Monday 27 July 2020.