Tips for Pregnant or Postpartum Parents during the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Heather Glubo, Ph.D.
Director of Behavioral Medicine
Did you know that mental health disorders are among the most common complications following childbirth? Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) can affect up to 20% of mothers and up to 10% of partners during the first year following birth. Postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, trauma, bipolar disorder and psychosis are all temporary and treatable. Postpartum parents are not adequately screened for these disorders, and sufferers struggle to share their experiences and ask for help. However, these disorders respond well to treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Becoming a new parent has never been more challenging. With the regulatory and self-imposed restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, many obstetricians are seeing their pregnant mothers less frequently to reduce potential exposure. Recent data show more than one in three moms with young children are suffering from clinical levels of depression and anxiety. Yet, the shame and stigma remain. If you are struggling with any of the symptoms below, give us a call – we can help!
Signs & Symptoms of PMADs
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating more than usual
- Inability to sleep (even when baby is sleeping) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest & pleasure in activities
- Intense irritability, anger & rage
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
- Suffering from physical aches and pains, including headaches, stomach problems and muscle pains
- Feelings of worthless, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Restlessness or an inability to sit still
- Racing thoughts
- Severe anxiety and pain attacks
- Heart palpitations, hyperventilation, shakiness, sweating, nausea or vomiting
- Fear that you are not a good mother
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Helpful Strategies for Coping with PMADs
Expressing how you feel to others can reduce your feelings of isolation and shame. By acknowledging a problem and sharing your experience, more opportunities for support are created from peers who can relate because of their own mental health struggles, from your partner, family or friends who may be able to reduce the mounting stress, or from qualified healthcare professionals who can alleviate symptoms and help you feel better. There are many support groups, “mom tribes” and campaigns (like #speakthesecret) that aim to reduce stigma and isolation and help mothers by providing reliable information and referrals.
This is truly a necessity for optimal mental health. It is also paradoxical to how most survive the first few months of motherhood (especially now during the pandemic). We know that increasing sleep, engaging in more exercise, incorporating nutritionally rich foods into our diets, and including wind-down time and relaxation breaks improve our mental state almost instantaneously. Yet, these can be some of the hardest things for mothers to add into their daily lives. Find ways to do this – ask someone to drop off home-cooked meals, find virtual exercise classes that specialize in postpartum and often include babies in the exercise circuits, or listen to a mindfulness meditation while nursing or bottle feeding your little one. When we take care of ourselves we are better caretakers of others. Ask your partner, family or friends to help you prioritize these things if you are struggling with doing it yourself. Finding ways to increase self-care will reduce distress, improve your mood and foster resiliency.
Instead of telling yourself how you should feel, allow yourself to feel your feelings, whatever they are. “Should” statements are what we consider in CBT to be cognitive distortion or unhelpful thinking patterns. Increase your attunement to times when you use statements with “should”, “ought to”, or “must” and then attempt to challenge and reframe the statements. By altering these negative self-statements we will be treating ourselves more compassionately and accepting reality (and ourselves!) as it truly is. For example, if you hear yourself saying something like: “I should know how to do this, I am a mother.” First stop and notice the “should.” Once you have noted the thought, acknowledge how the statement makes you feel, and look for evidence. Is this thought even accurate? Once you have have evaluated a thought, you often find it to be overly harsh or critical. Would you think the same way if you were watching a friend? Then go back to the drawing board, revise and reframe the thought to something more balanced and believable, and see if you feel differently!
As Postpartum Support International (PSI) says best, “You are not alone, you are not to blame, and with help you will be well.” Please call our intake coordinator (212-308-2440) to set up an initial evaluation if you are interested in learning more about our maternal mental health service offerings.
Heather Glubo, Ph.D., Director of Behavioral Medicine, is a New York State licensed clinical psychologist with extensive experience in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and specialized training in health psychology. Dr. Glubo’s clinical health psychology training focuses on the mind‐body connection in treating neurological and medical conditions.