Under normal, pre-pandemic circumstances, postpartum depression is the number one complication of childbirth—affecting 15 percent of new mothers—according to the American Psychological Association. But new research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem worse, with pregnant women reporting elevated symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to pre-pandemic.
With so much fear and uncertainty in the air and many of us cut off from friends, family, and other support systems we’ve come to rely on, it’s no surprise that it’s harder than ever for new parents facing the baby blues. Luckily, there are resources available, even now, so no parent has to go through this alone.
Virtual therapy is more readily available than ever
“The good news is that most therapists have gone virtual, so there’s no need to leave your house and sacrifice safety if you’re looking to speak to a professional,” says Miami family therapist Tania Paredes, Ph.D., whose research expertise is in postpartum depression. There’s even research that shows virtual therapy, also known as teletherapy, can be just as effective as meeting with a therapist face-to-face.
The Seleni Institute is a reputable nonprofit that provides a slew of online resources, including telehealth services, specific to families experiencing maternal mental health concerns. “There’s also an organization called Postpartum International (PSI) that offers free virtual group support in various languages, and there’s even a group for dads,” Dr. Paredes adds. The latter is important because postpartum depression affects fathers as well as mothers, and they’re under the same pandemic stress that moms are facing. “Dads are the forgotten population in the pre- and postnatal world,” Dr. Paredes says. “It’s important to recognize that Dad is the other caregiver, and his wellness affects mom’s and baby’s wellness, too.”
Other new parents can be a lifeline
Connecting with other new parents can be a lifesaver for some moms experiencing postpartum depression during the pandemic, and there are ways to do it safely during the pandemic. “Take a walk or meet a park where you can remain socially distanced, or join an online support group for new moms,” Dr. Paredes suggests. “It’s another form of counseling that helps you realize you’re not alone.”
If meeting in person still concerns you, online support groups, such as those found via PSI or What to Expect, or Facebook groups geared specifically toward parenting in a pandemic, are a great way to build social connectivity, receive emotional validation, and learn coping skills, too. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology also suggests contacting the hospital where you gave birth or your health care professional for help identifying both local and online support groups. On Facebook, the group called Postpartum Depression Awareness is run by a nonprofit organization devoted entirely to this subject. It’s yet another avenue to connect with others and seek help without leaving home.
Find new ways to take care of yourself
Beyond therapy and support groups, there are lifestyle changes that have been shown to help new moms dealing with postpartum depression. A study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that both social support and exercise were associated with lower symptoms of postpartum depression in new mothers. Even a simple daily walking routine may help mitigate long-term negative outcomes, so once your doctor clears you to get back to regular activities, try taking baby for a walk in the stroller, or leave them in the care of someone else if you can and try getting some exercise every day to help elevate your mood.
Research has shown that meditation can help alleviate the symptoms of postpartum depression, too. Apps such as Calm Birth and Expectful Meditation & Sleep are designed specifically for new parents, and thus provide a slew of great resources, even for those who’ve never tried meditation before.
Whatever you do, don’t despair. There are many great resources for new and expectant parents during the COVID-19 crisis, and many of them are available for free or are covered by insurance. There are even tons of ways to help single parents during this time. The good news is this time of uncertainty is only temporary. Seek help where you can, and just remember that there are many mothers and fathers experiencing the same thing.