Finding out you’re having a baby is wonderful, exciting news whenever it happens but there’s no doubt being pregnant (and giving birth and caring for a newborn) during COVID comes with a special set of rules and concerns. We spoke with expert OB/GYNs and a mom who recently had a baby during the pandemic so you can get a better sense of what to expect when you’re expecting (when no one really knows what to expect next!).
Dr. Diana Contreras, MD, chairman of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at Morristown Medical Center and Atlantic Health System, says the biggest thing expectant moms should prepare for is the ability to be flexible.
ADJUSTING TO A NEW NORMAL
“This is a different time,” Contreras says, noting her team works with patients to lower anxiety, but there are key differences new parents should expect. “We don’t want to cramp people into a room. We want to make sure we’re social distancing. We are wearing masks.” Dr. Contreras says pre-pandemic new parents had few restrictions. “People used to bring their whole family. Now we encourage people to limit their exposure,” she says. “The more people we expose, the higher chance of contracting this virus. Wearing a mask is critical.”
If the idea of wearing a mask while giving birth sounds strange and difficult, that’s because it is. But Contreras says it’s in the best interest of parents and babies. “It’s difficult to push and participate in labor wearing a mask, but you have to,” she says. “Our team will all be wearing masks. We are looking to make this the safest experience possible.”
Contreras says new parents can take heart knowing there’s still a lot of support available virtually through telehealth. “We have classes offered virtually, we have virtual patient support,” she says.
As for preparation, she recommends expectant mothers find ways to deal with anxiety, which will likely be increased during this uncertain time. “Whether it’s meditation or breathing, I would encourage people to find something that works for them so when they come in, they have a tool to rely on,” she says.
As for what to pack for the hospital, Contreras says women don’t need to bring anything additional except a mask. Jaime Maser Berman, 42, of Westfield gave birth to her third child, a son named Jones, at the start of the pandemic on March 9. She says her experience with motherhood was vastly different from when she had her other two sons, Bodie, 4 and Arlo, 2.
“You need to wrap your head around the idea that some people in your life likely won’t meet your child until his first birthday,” she says.
Maternity leave can be very isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says. “For my older children, I did new mom coffee meetups, story time at the local library and bookstores, infant music and yoga classes as soon as they were six weeks. Yes, there are virtual options, but to me that’s not the same as in real life classes or connections,” Berman says. She and Jones have spent the majority of their time taking walks, reading books and listening to music at home, or grabbing an occasional socially distant coffee with other mom friends.
Berman says becoming a mom again during coronavirus taught her that it’s okay to ask for help. “I took whatever ‘me time’ I could get and went for a run or caught a nap or watched Grey’s Anatomy or went grocery shopping solo,” she says. “That time alone is so clutch to remembering you’re a human being too and not just a baby making milk machine /caretaker of toddlers.” She also recommends tuning out the opinions of others. “Everyone has an opinion–often unsolicited–so tune out the noise from strangers you meet on the online mom group and don’t second guess yourself or your parenting choices based on what other people are saying,” she says. “You do you.”
MAKING MENTAL HEALTH A PRIORITY
Daniel Finch, MD, Chief Medical Officer, CarePlusNJ, says postpartum depression can be an even higher risk for new parents during COVID. Dr. Finch has a perinatal mental health certification (PMH-C), which requires additional training in treating a woman’s mental health during pregnancy and the postpartum period and is also a father to a 2-year-old daughter and a baby boy born during COVID.
He says reaching out to others in the same boat during this time is vital for mental health. “Connect with other expectant mothers who might also be experiencing the same thoughts and emotions as you are,” he says. “You can find incredible value in sharing feelings, experiences and innovative solutions. There are several virtual support groups for this, including ones at the Maternal and Family Center at CarePlusNJ.”
Dr. Finch also says it’s important to know the difference between “normal” feelings of loss, sadness or anger that can occur at this momentous time versus warning signs of a more serious depression.
“Examples are: two or more weeks of sleeping or eating too much or too little, extreme fatigue or irritability, not taking care of daily hygiene, significant feelings of guilt or lack of joy in things that used to make you happy and in the most serious cases thoughts of harming yourself or wanting to die,” Dr. Finch says.
“These are signs that you should seek help from a therapist or psychiatrist,” he says, urging new mothers to reach out for postpartum support at places such as the Maternal and Family Center.
“Lastly, remember that the birth of a child is a momentous occasion despite what may be going on in the world,” he says. “Moms and their partners should be reminded that nothing can take away from the miraculous experience of bringing a new life into the world.”