According to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, more than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness in the perinatal period (the period during pregnancy and after giving birth). However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists predicted that the lockdown measures implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to increase anxiety in the general population, but especially in the perinatal population.
Pregnancy and becoming a new parent are uncertain times for many, and the coronavirus pandemic adds extra layers of uncertainty on top of this. The Royal College of Psychiatrists state that the increased anxiety is likely to revolve around; Covid-19 itself, the impact of social isolation resulting in reduced physical support from family and friends, potentially reduced household finances, and the major changes in the NHS antenatal care.
Identifying Red Flags
NHS antenatal appointments are being conducted via telephone rather than face-to-face, which may feel colder and less containing for the new parent. Furthermore, it could also mean that cases of domestic violence, substance misuse, and safeguarding concerns are more difficult to identify. On the other hand, due to many hospitals not allowing partners into the pre-natal scans, some midwives are reporting cases of domestic violence being disclosed then.
Isolation, not just social isolation, can be a massive factor in maternal mental health. Forgetting the current pandemic for a moment, many new mums struggle with loneliness when friends, family, and their partner return to work after celebrating the arrival of their baby. New parents often rely on the support of their family and friends in the early weeks and months of becoming a parent. Whether it’s bringing food over, cooking meals, or looking after your newborn while you nap or shower, any help is often welcoming with open arms.
At the moment, many new parents are being told that visitors cannot see the newborn without self-isolating for 14 days first. This is obviously to protect the newborn baby who hasn’t yet had any immunisations, but this also puts a lot of strain on the new parents, and increases the feeling of loneliness and overwhelm that can sometimes hit new parents.
Many new parents take part in antenatal classes, whether through the NHS or organisations such as NCT (National Childbirth Trust), as a way of learning about pregnancy and parenting, but also as a way of meeting other people who they can connect and socialise with. These classes are now being held online and whilst all of the information is still being delivered, the social element of these classes might not be there in the way that it is with face-to-face classes.
Maternal Mental Health
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the following are signs of deteriorating maternal mental health;
- Recent significant changes in mental state or emergence of new symptoms
- New thoughts or acts of violent self-harm
- New and persistent expressions of incompetency as a mother or estrangement from the infant
These symptoms should prompt a referral to professional perinatal mental health services. Other symptoms of maternal mental health include;
- Deep Sadness
- Crying Spells
- Excessive Worrying
- Intense Irritability or Anger
- Loss of Appetite
- Inability to Sleep, Even When the Baby is sleeping
- Overwhelming Fatigue
- Loss of Interest in Sex
- Lack of Joy in Life
- Feelings of Shame, Guilt or Inadequacy
- Severe Mood Swings
- Withdrawal from Family and Friends
- Confusion or Disorientation
- Hallucinations and Delusions
- Difficulty Bonding with the Baby
- Thoughts of Harming Yourself or the Baby
- Attempts to Harm Yourself or the Baby
What you can do
Ensure that you and your partner communicate as openly and honestly as possible with each other and with healthcare professionals. It’s important to communicate about how you are feeling, how you are coping, what you need from each other, and when you might need professional support.
Pre-empt any potential impact on your mental health by talking to family and friends in the run up to the birth. Discuss any communication from hospital staff about social distancing post-birth, how they might be able to support you, and what you need from them.
If you are the family or friend, ensure that you are providing adequate emotional support to the new parents. You may not be able to go and visit them, but they still need you. Many new mum’s start to experience an overwhelming sense of loneliness once the excitement dies down and people start going back to their normal lives, so it is important that you provide continuous emotional support and opportunities for communication. Remember that your friend or family member has just had a baby, and so you might need to put more effort into organising virtual visits, instigating phone calls, and so on.
If you would like to talk to a professional about your own maternal or paternal mental health, then do get in touch with us. We can match you with a therapist to support you through this. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected].