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Mental Health

Protecting Your Mental Health During Pregnancy and After the Baby Arrives

Whether it’s your first baby or your sixth, pregnancy and welcoming a brand-new baby into your home brings on a rollercoaster of emotions — from excitement to nervousness and from joy to exhaustion. This journey can take a toll on your body and your mind.

The typical advice to new (or soon-to-be) moms is to eat well, get plenty of rest and use your support system. But how does that work during a global pandemic? Below are some suggestions to consider.

Get Your Much Needed ZZZs

Feedings, diaper changes and snuggle breaks are non-stop — often leaving little time for quality sleep. In ‘normal’ times, we might have the luxury of getting some extra help from friends or loved ones so that we can steal a nap or two. Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘normal’ hardly exists. So, how can you possibly get any sleep when all your helpers are sheltering in place?

El Camino Health psychiatrist, Dr. Nirmaljit Dhami, recommends that if you have a two-parent household, partners should stagger their sleep schedules. While it’s important to prioritize sleep and rest for the mother, both partners will at some point become sleep deprived. You probably won’t get your full eight hours, but Dr. Dhami recommends you both get at least four to six hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. While one partner is sleeping, consider having the other partner care for the baby in a different room so each person has an opportunity for a period of quality rest.

If you’re a single parent or a family with multiple children, Dr. Dhami suggests asking family members or caregivers who are healthy and have been sheltering in place for help.

Have Food Delivered to Your Door

In the early days, babies are all-consuming — so, who has time for shopping and cooking? Take advantage of grocery store and restaurant delivery services. If you can, order groceries ahead of time and keep a good supply of critical items such as diapers and wipes – this can minimize potential stress if supplies at the store are low for the items you need urgently. Friends and family, as long as they’re healthy, can also be supportive by dropping off homemade items or supplies at your door.

Connect with Family, Friends and Community

Baby showers, play dates and mom’s nights out aren’t really an option right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected. Give yourself permission to grieve the temporary loss of these activities and consider alternate ways to stay in touch with your community. Church services and exercise classes are offered virtually, friends get together on Zoom for group hangouts, and there’s FaceTime and Skype. Even regular old-fashioned phone calls can be helpful. So, don’t go it alone, it’s important to connect any way you can.

Trade Fear for Facts

One of the more unsettling things about this pandemic is how little we know about the virus itself. This can be particularly concerning for pregnant women and new parents who are trying to protect their vulnerable babies. It’s good to stay informed by checking reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. It is also important to be aware of how much time you spend focusing on the news and other media if it is causing you distress. Consider setting time limits each day to help manage the impact on your mental well-being.

Keep Up with Your Medical Visits and Medications

Of course, you want to keep yourself and your baby far away from germs right now. But not getting necessary medical care carries a big risk. Consult with your doctor about scheduling your appointments via telephone or telehealth, especially early on so your doctor can ensure you are doing all right.

Dr. Dhami explains, “New moms are reluctant to go out of the house to get help, and their symptoms can get worse as a result. They must weigh the risk of untreated medical issues, including postpartum depression, to exposure to COVID-19 in the community.”

If you’re concerned, call your doctor and ask how you or your baby can safely be seen. Many health providers are implementing new protocols and procedures to ensure safe contact. Also, be sure to continue any medical regimen, including medications, as directed.

Watch for Postpartum Depression or the ‘Baby Blues’

During pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, it’s common for new moms to experience something called the ‘baby blues.’ Some of this is due to the increased responsibilities at home, some of it is caused by fluctuating hormones and some of it can be contributed to a lack of sleep.

Many moms can experience mood swings, anxiety and irritability within the first week or two after giving birth. However, if your symptoms are more severe, or if they’re continuing for longer than two weeks, it could be postpartum depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Untreated postpartum depression and anxiety can linger for months and even up to a year after birth. Up to 20 percent of women can experience postpartum depression or anxiety, and it often goes untreated. The good news is that there is help. If you are experiencing sadness, high anxiety, impaired sleep, ruminative (repetitive, negative) thoughts, intrusive thoughts, excessive guilt or thoughts of self-harm, reach out to your OB-GYN or primary care provider. You can be assessed and connected to resources for support including the Maternal Outreach Mood Services (MOMS) Program at El Camino Health.

Beyond the Typical Pressures of Pregnancy and Caring for a Newborn

“We are also seeing patients with a history of trauma or interpersonal conflicts with their partner struggling. Many are trying to juggle work, taking care of other children and are having serious problems in their relationships,” explains Dr. Dhami. Experts are available to help. Many mental health providers are offering telehealth visits during this time. If you find yourself in an unsafe living situation, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Finding Support for Your Mental Well-Being

If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, ‘baby blues,’ anxiety or just need someone to talk to for advice, please reach out. These are unprecedented times that are impacting each of us in unique ways. Support has never been more important, and it is readily available.

Many mental health providers are adapting their services to ensure that those who need them can have easy and safe access. Online support groups are also a great way to connect with other new moms. Postpartum Support International is a well-respected resource for pregnant and postpartum women.

If you live here, in the Bay Area, other local options include:

Contact El Camino Health Mental Health Services for a free mental health assessment at 866-789-6089. Support in finding additional community resources is also available if needed.

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