COVID Anxiety While Pregnant? 4 Strategies To Help You Get By

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Pregnancy is a time of wonder and change. It's also a time when stress and anxiety run high. For the past year, pregnant women have not only faced hormonal surges, shifting body parts and planning for baby's arrival, they've also had to do it in the midst of a global pandemic.

"COVID-19 has added a new level of stress and anxiety for women and families who are expecting and have young children," says Sara Mertz, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health System. "Fortunately, the stigma of anxiety and depression are becoming less of a barrier for women than they were before."

That means more pregnant women are getting the help they need to navigate the mental health challenges of pregnancy, as well as the physical changes they're experiencing. 

How The Pandemic Affects Prenatal Anxiety

Pregnancy is an emotionally challenging time for women, even without COVID-19. Women may feel irritable, nervous and confused. They may be concerned for both their baby's health and their own.

"Women want to celebrate the pregnancy, but they're isolated from their friends and family," Mertz says. "There's a lot of financial loss around the pandemic, and women have a real fear for their safety. So we're seeing a huge increase in prenatal depression and anxiety."

While scientists still don't know everything about COVID-19, there is some encouraging news as it relates to pregnancy:

  • COVID-19 is uncommon in newborns born to mothers who had COVID-19 during pregnancy.
  • Most babies who are affected are asymptomatic and require minimal intervention.
  • The FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are believed to be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. 

That said, pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and death, compared to non-pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those infected with COVID-19 might be at increased risk for preterm birth (delivering the baby earlier than 37 weeks). So, it's important to follow safety precautions like mask-wearing, practicing social distancing and frequent handwashing.

Managing Prenatal Depression And Anxiety

During pregnancy, it's natural for anxious thoughts to run amok: Is the baby healthy? Is development progressing? Am I ready for delivery? Add the novel coronavirus to the mix, and it's no wonder so many women are suffering.

"Some women are concerned about not being able to have their partners at appointments. Others are sad that loved ones won't be present at the delivery." Mertz says. "It's a very isolating and frightening experience."

She suggests some things pregnant women can do to work through difficult feelings:

  1. Make a plan. Before you deliver, come up with a plan for help after delivery. Determine who among your support network has minimal exposures and put together a plan that outlines how people can provide additional support if you need it. Women tend to do a lot of planning for birth, but they forget the postpartum period.
  2. Take a time out. Make time for self-care. You may not be able to take an entire day, but can you go for a walk at the park? Or take a bath? Or meditate for five minutes? Be intentional about your self-care and find something that works for you.
  3. Cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness tools can be especially helpful for managing complex emotions, including depression and anxiety. Your provider can teach you to pay attention to what's happening in your body. You can even try a free mindfulness app.
  4. Get help. Behavioral health providers and therapists are essential frontline workers during the pandemic — and most of them are offering virtual services. Reach out and develop a relationship with a therapist you trust. Not sure where to start? Postpartum Support International provides a list of providers who specialize in maternal/child health. They also have several online support groups.

A new baby adds another layer of chaos to an already tumultuous time. "Give yourself a break and recognize that we're all learning as we go," Mertz says. Then focus on the priorities: therapy, sleep hygiene, social support and medication (if necessary).

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To find a doctor, therapist or certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). Learn more about safe pregnancy and delivery at Henry Ford during COVID-19. 

Sara Mertz is a certified nurse midwife who sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell