Photo: Jenna Marie Wakani
Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, new moms typically experience feelings of isolation and a huge identity shift when they go on maternity leave, because we lose our daily interactions with most other adults. New motherhood is not unlike lockdown: A trip to the grocery store may be the highlight of your week. The pandemic’s stay-at-home orders have intensified and compounded these feelings of stress and isolation, complicating everyday tasks. Even bundling up the baby and getting to postpartum appointments (particularly if you’re car-less) can be fraught with anxiety about germs and logistics.
“About 80 percent of women at three months postpartum say they are feeling more alone than they did prior to the pandemic, and about 28 percent say that their feelings of isolation increased dramatically,” says Gerald Giesbrecht, an associate professor of paediatrics and community health sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of the Pregnancy During the Pandemic study, which includes data from more than 8,200 Canadian women and counting. “Fear of the baby being harmed by the coronavirus and added responsibilities during quarantine are also major contributors to stress.”
Here are some ways to counteract that anxiety and connect with others.
You’ll feel less alone if you find other parents in your area who are going through the same thing. Peanut and Social.mom (which was founded by a Canadian) are like dating apps, except that you look for local moms who have babies the same age as yours. If you hit it off with someone, meet for socially distanced walks or just stick with phone calls, texts or Zoom for now. “Virtual connection is not the same as in-person, but it may be better than complete isolation,” Giesbrecht says.
Seek out online communities where you can start a conversation or chime in. Next time you’re up at 2 a.m. to feed your baby, you’ll be able to log in to Facebook or Instagram for reassurance that others are also awake for the same reason. Your fellow new moms may not be able to help you solve a latching problem, but you’ll have a community ready to listen if you’re feeling down or need to vent, and laughing about someone else’s diaper-explosion horror story builds solidarity.
If you’re having trouble establishing breastfeeding but don’t feel comfortable having a lactation consultant (LC) visit your home, see if LCs in your local community are offering virtual video visits–many are. (In fact, many LCs offered virtual appointments before the pandemic, since it isn’t always easy to leave the house with a newborn when you’re healing from childbirth.) Someone will meet with you via video to watch your technique, diagnose any problems and offer tips. The app Maple (getmaple.ca) links people with doctors and lactation consultants, or you could try the 24/7 LC service within the MyMedela app, which offers live video chats (they have one-month or three-month memberships). Many local La Leche League breastfeeding support chapters are holding free online meetings, too.
Zoom exercise classes have become the norm during the pandemic, and it’s hard to schedule exercise into your day when you’re nap-trapped at home with a baby anyhow. It’s a great time to try a virtual mom-baby yoga session or postpartum fitness class from the safety of your home—even if you’re exhausted. “These classes can give life a familiar rhythm, offer structured opportunities for connecting with baby and help to reduce a sense of isolation,” Giesbrecht says.
It’s not about weight loss or “getting your pre-baby body back”—it’s about getting those feel-good endorphins flowing and bolstering your mental health. Researchers at the University of Alberta found that pregnant women and new moms who did at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week were less likely to experience anxiety and depression during the pandemic than women who were less physically active. Light stretching and mobility exercises can also really help if you’ve been spending hours hunched over while nursing or if you’re feeling lower back strain from babywearing.
You don’t need a lot of equipment or an expensive Peloton bike in order to do this. First, check to see if your local yoga and fitness studios are offering online classes designed for postpartum moms and babies, or check out virtual studios and fitness apps like The Mama Reset, Baby Bee Yoga or The Bloom Method. (But always beware of programs and accounts that verge on “thinspiration” and don’t represent a range of people and body types.) If the weather and the COVID restrictions allow for it where you live, some postpartum classes and boot camps are still happening outdoors with physical distancing.
Bundle up and meet a friend for a socially distanced walk through town or hike through the woods. You can push your strollers along together while remaining physically distanced, or practise babywearing and your body warmth will keep your little one toasty. This is ideal for mom friends whose babies’ nap schedules sync up. It’s also a practical way for a friend or relative to meet your baby in person, from two metres away. “A physically distanced walk or visit can be a ‘low-risk’ in-person encounter,” Giesbrecht says.
When you can’t expand your bubble widely enough to introduce your baby to everyone, showing off your new addition via Zoom, Skype or another platform can help you feel closer. Put your newborn’s tiny fingers or toes near the camera for your loved ones to marvel over, or dress them in the outfit that your relative mailed you. And don’t make the call just about your baby; your family and friends will want to hear how you’ve been coping, too.
Sometimes, opening up to someone who isn’t a part of your inner circle, such as a therapist, may help you feel validated. You may find it comforting to make sense of everything going on in the world by talking it through with someone who’s qualified to help. Remember that seeking mental health support doesn’t mean that you have postpartum depression (though you should know that one in seven moms do!). Many new moms experience the baby blues, or feel overwhelmed, without a PPD diagnosis or a pandemic. The telehealth platform Livecare is a great place to find a therapist without leaving your house. Postpartum Support International is another excellent resource, with a very useful directory of North American mental health professionals and different weekly online support groups (such as mood support for new moms, or meetings for NICU parents, for queer parents or for dads only). There’s also Ontario Telemedicine Network’s Togetherall platform, a completely anonymous peer-to-peer mental health support network where you can share your emotions without sharing your identity.