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Pregnancy and COVID-19: Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

No matter how many times you do it, being pregnant is nearly always stressful and anxiety-inducing. As excited as you are, there are still so many things to worry about. Now add an international epidemic on top of that and things can get seriously overwhelming. Suddenly, it’s more than just concerns about whether your baby will be okay and whether you’ll be a good enough parent. Now, the world is scarier, more threatening, and much lonelier than it was before.

Dealing with the stress of pregnancy during COVID-19 may be hard, but it’s not impossible, and if it’s something that you’re going through right now, you are in no way alone in it. In this article, we share tips for dealing with your anxiety as well as real stories from pregnant women who are going through the same thing. Because although you may be physically isolated in a way you never were before, you are definitely not alone in this.

Pregnancy Anxiety

If you’ve ever been or are currently pregnant, you know that there are a lot of different emotions that come up during pregnancy. Excitement for the future and happiness about growing your family mix with worries about potential issues and all sorts of anxiety about childbirth, the outcome of your pregnancy, and the safety of your unborn baby. These anxieties are incredibly common, with nearly one in four pregnant women reporting experiencing anxious pregnancy symptoms such as restlessness, worry, dread, irritability, sleeplessness, and panic attacks in their third trimester.

Pregnancy Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Unfortunately, the past year and the Coronavirus pandemic haven’t made things any easier on expecting mums. According to the pregnancy charity Tommy’s, a poll of over 1,000 people revealed that approximately half of mothers-to-be or women who recently gave birth are feeling anxious, while over three quarters say that COVID-19 has exacerbated their nerves.

Similarly, the Guttmacher Institute reports that COVID-19 has caused around a third of people who could become pregnant to delay or rethink how many children they’d like to have. According to one smaller-scale survey, anxiety levels in pregnant women have increased from 18 per cent before the pandemic to 50 per cent during, even in the setting of a low-risk pregnancy. 

These experiences are very real - and could have serious consequences ranging from postpartum depression to even negatively affecting fetal brain development.

Learn more: A survival guide to the fourth trimester

Common Fears of Pregnant Women

Even in a typical scenario, there are already so many things that may make somebody anxious while pregnant. An expecting mum might feel anxious about miscarriage, fetal development, pain during childbirth, finances, and more.

But with the Coronavirus pandemic come all sorts of other stressors. For one, it can be incredibly isolating and scary having to go through the process of pregnancy alone. Says Zara, mum of three, “It was so different to my previous pregnancies having to attend scans alone… I felt so much more worried, nervous and scared knowing there wasn’t a familiar face in the room or hand to hold.” Ruth, another expecting mum of three echoed the sentiment, saying, “The thought of having to do most of it alone is absolutely terrifying.”  

Worrying woman feeling stress and anxiety during pregnancy and sitting down and covering her ears

There is also the fear of having a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and the more intense consequences of such a scenario. After all, evidence shows pregnant people are more likely to end up on a ventilator if they contract the Coronavirus, although we still don’t have concrete information about whether or not pregnancy increases the risk of COVID-19 mortality or can be transmitted to a fetus in utero. While awareness of these facts is important in order to be informed and motivated to take necessary safety precautions, it is by no means comforting.

Additionally, expecting mothers have to contend with worries about the baby’s safety in hospital and at home, anxiety about giving birth in an overloaded medical system, and concerns about having postpartum depression. And that’s not to mention the disappointment and sadness that comes with missing out on the usual exciting and calming activities such as baby showers, birthing classes, and mum’s groups. At 36 weeks, Sophie described the feeling: “I’m a little bit sad that I couldn‘t attend any pregnancy yoga classes or pregnancy swimming/gymnastic classes and our birth preparation course was via Zoom. I would have preferred it live to meet other pregnant women.”

How Hospitals are Handling the Pandemic

Thankfully, hospitals have been doing their absolute best to make the pregnancy and birth experience as positive as possible for pregnant women under the circumstances, something that has proven to be one of the few shining lights in an otherwise difficult situation. “The midwives were brilliant and so friendly throughout, ensuring that they went the extra mile to give me the most positive experience possible”, explained Zara.

Mother with her newborn baby in a hospital bed

Image: @zarabyrd on Instagram

And while having to go through ultrasound and hospital appointments alone is one of the harder parts of this situation, the NHS has changed their policies so that women no longer have to struggle through it. Now, as a way to facilitate emotional wellbeing, expectant mothers in England will be permitted to have one person with them during all appointments and throughout birth, something that should prove to be a major relief.

Getting Help and Support

This policy change proves to be a recognition on the part of the NHS of the critical nature of receiving help and support for pregnant women in general and now in particular. For women anxious about getting pregnant during the pandemic, those anxious about being pregnant, and those suffering from pregnancy and anxiety attacks, receiving support can make all the difference.  

To help feel less alone, Sophie recommends “try[ing] to join online birth prep courses or even online pregnancy yoga classes… [and visiting] Facebook groups or Instagram blogs where you can share your experiences with other expecting mothers.” 

Other sources for help and support include therapists, maternity experts, and hospitals, who make it their goal to help pregnant women have a smooth and successful pregnancy. If desired, you should be able to arrange to speak to a therapist virtually. It’s also important to know that it’s absolutely okay to take anxiety medications if you need to and that most are safe during pregnancy - although only a medical doctor can give the final word as to whether or not a specific medication is okay for your particular case.

You can also lean on your family and partner for both emotional and practical support. Speaking openly and candidly about your feelings, concerns, and fears can be incredibly relieving, especially with active listening and validation that your loved ones can provide. On a more practical level, receiving help around the house can potentially free up time for you to engage in healing self-care activities that can work to calm your anxieties.

You might also find it useful to consult with an online expert, in which you can communicate directly with maternal healthcare experts that will respond to your concerns with evidence-based information. Ask Lola&Lykke Experts anything you may be concerned about, from having anxiety early pregnancy to experiencing pregnancy paranoia anxiety to more general issues such as questions about breastfeeding, childbirth, and wellness. This service is completely free of charge, personal, private, and non-judgmental. 

Finally, it may be helpful to limit your consumption of news related to the pandemic. While it is important to remain informed, it’s easy to find yourself sinking into a downward spiral of constantly checking figures that will only unnecessarily exacerbate your anxiety. Setting limitations on yourself or asking a trusted close friend or family member to relay any important news to you might significantly help you relax.

At the end of the day, keeping in mind that you are not alone can make a huge difference for you and your baby. Not only will addressing and managing your stress and anxiety help you to feel better, but it will also prevent your developing baby from being exposed to too many stress hormones that can cross the placental barrier and disrupt the fetal brain's biochemistry.

As Sophie puts it, “Just stay calm and relaxed for your baby, and concentrate on the positive things! This is just a phase that will eventually go over and you will end the lockdown with a smiling baby in your arms.” Despite everything, Zara reports that her “pregnancy experience was positive through the pandemic,” and it can be the same for you, as well. Just do your best to give yourself the compassion and care that you need while leaning on the resources available to you. You will get through this.

by Lola&Lykke Team