Pregnant in a Pandemic: There are strategies to help you cope

By Francie Williamson, Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Emily Witt says she was very emotional during her pregnancy this year, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’re constantly worrying about people around you, where you’re going, and you don’t want to get sick yourself so you’re protecting yourself,” Witt says.

To deal with these difficult feelings, Witt says she kept telling herself it was only temporary. She also participated in counseling sessions with Stacey Pawlak, PhD, at the Women’s Wellness Clinic at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

“I definitely think the counseling helped keep me a little sane, because it’s an outside perspective,” Witt says. “Stacey really helped me find outlets in my realm of what I have access to. She’s had me look toward my hobby type things or things that kept you calm or distracted a little bit.”

She says being outdoors also really helped.

“Since it was pretty nice while I was pregnant, I was just kind of getting out and trying to take my mind off things,” Witt says.

Witt also used Facebook, “because it’s the next best thing that we have to actually connect with people. And video chatting, of course.”

An anxious time

Pawlak says pregnancy is normally a time of excited anticipation with a dose of anxiety.

“Under ‘usual’ circumstances, moms- and dads-to-be might worry about whether baby is growing enough, what the birth plan should include, or what car seat to buy,” Pawlak says.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States, pregnancy, labor and delivery have looked very different for many parents, Pawlak says.

“Anxiety has risen due to fears about what might happen to baby if mom contracts the virus while pregnant, frustration with hospital and clinic visitor restrictions during prenatal care and childbirth, and grief that the normal joyful preparations for parenthood, such as baby showers, babymoons and visits from family, have been cancelled,” Pawlak says.

Recommended ways to cope

Pawlak says there are many strategies that you can use to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and helplessness during your “pandemic pregnancy.”

  • Be careful where you look for information about COVID-19 and pregnancy: some sources are better than others. For example, information from social media may not be as reliable as other evidence-based resources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Talk with your obstetrician, midwife, or other prenatal healthcare provider about your pregnancy and childbirth concerns. He or she will be able to give you up-to-date information about pandemic precautions for pregnant women and any ways that your childbirth experience will be impacted at your delivery location. They will collaborate with you to develop a safe, individualized plan for your prenatal care and birthing experience. They can also help to reassure you about the precautions that your hospital or clinic is taking.

  • Focus on the things you can control rather than those which you cannot. You can take steps to maintain positive mood and healthy behaviors. You can continue to engage in pandemic precautions, such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing. You can’t control other people’s actions or how the virus is impacting your community, state, or nation.

  • Keep up those social connections. Plan video calls with loved ones, help to plan a virtual baby shower, and get ready to blow up social media with photos of your new pride and joy once he or she arrives.

  • Take things day-by-day, whenever possible. Each day brings new developments regarding the coronavirus, local case numbers fluctuate frequently, and updates on guidelines to limit transmission often change as we learn more about this virus. Trying to predict too far ahead may not be helpful and may actually be a waste of precious energy.

  • Use proven stress-reduction tools such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, positive self-care (bubble bath, anyone?!), and gratitude-building if you feel sadness or anxiety. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are struggling emotionally – they can refer you to a mental health care provider who can support your through this challenging time.

  • Maintain hope! A vaccine is on the way. We know that taking the right precautions and wearing PPE can prevent spread of the coronavirus.

  • Remember: women are safely giving birth to babies every single day. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, your pregnancy journey is special. One day you will be able to share the unique story of ‘pregnancy during a pandemic’ with your child.

After baby’s arrival

Witt, at home in Iowa City with her now 3-month-old son, Jaxson, says pregnant women should be mindful that especially amid this tough time, self-care is still important.

“Don’t necessarily try to please everyone, because in this pandemic it gets super crazy,” Witt says. “The biggest thing is just to make sure you have the support and people you can talk to. It is hard, I’m not going to lie, but finding the support people and counseling really helped.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2020