Written by Stephanie Canniford, Natura Massage & Wellness
People are designed to thrive from connection. From the moment we are conceived we are connected to another – first to our mother – physically by our umbilical cord – and then to many as we navigate our way through life.
Our parents, family, friends and work colleagues, we form the meaningful relationships that we need to flourish in an increasingly stressful and anxiety inducing world. So what happens when suddenly the world is thrown into lockdown? We can no longer access these social connections in the same way – the world has moved online and we are physically set adrift from our loved ones.
Social isolation is not the same as loneliness but it definitely can promote those feelings and this is deeply troubling and can be hugely damaging for a person’s mental health. So what do we need to do? With government guidelines still in place, how can we make sure that social isolation doesn’t become loneliness for us? And how can we protect one of the most vulnerable groups: pregnant women and new mothers.
How has pregnancy and motherhood been affected by the pandemic?
Through my own conversations I understand that the experience of pregnancy and motherhood have been affected significantly by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown rules. Before we even look at numbers on depression and anxiety lets just pause and think about all the experiences of preparing for the arrival of a baby that have had to dramatically change:
- No in person support network from family and friends.
- No congratulatory hugs received when you can share pregnancy news.
- No baby shower – at least not in person.
- At times no partner in your midwife or scan appointments.
- Limited access for partners at birth.
- The worry of being in a vulnerable group during a pandemic.
- Cancelled or online only birthing classes.
- An NHS buckling under the pressure of COVID-19 so services have been lacking or delayed.
I could go on…
At a time that is already stressful as you await the arrival of your new baby, the pandemic has hit families particularly hard. Joyful moments cannot be shared in the same way and painful worries cannot be supported.
Studies into maternal mental health have already shown that, since lockdown, 61% of women were now meeting criteria for anxiety and 43% of women for clinically relevant depression. This is a huge increase to numbers before the pandemic – in fact in some cases we are seeing more than three times the numbers of women now experiencing these mental health symptoms.
What can we do to support pregnant women during a pandemic?
So what can we do now? It’s not enough to simply notice the issue – we need to be supporting pregnant women, their families and those in early parenting to learn new tools. We need to be promoting services that provide useful and easy to use techniques that can help to keep mental health in balance and build resilience so that parents can cope with the challenges of pregnancy and those early new born days. And, maybe even most importantly, we need to talk about mental health – normalise it – reduce the stigma and let these women know they are not alone, even in lockdown.