Written by Manuela Aprile
Edited by Vijay Suryavanshi and Nivedita Singh
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected our lives and minds. Many articles have already talked about the good and bad consequences that restrictions and quarantine have had on people’s minds. Indeed, this break from the chaotic, everyday life has been to some people, a kind of panacea, since they could find some time to rediscover themselves, cultivate new hobbies, relax and somehow detox from the competitive and frenetic life of modern society.
Unfortunately, not everyone has had the luck to live the pandemic in such a good and constructive way. There are in fact, many factors, such as physical and mental health status, occupation, relationships with cohabitants, etc., that influence the outcomes that a pandemic can have on our minds. Pregnancy is one of the many aspects of our lives that can be negatively impacted by a pandemic.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect pregnant women’s mental health?
Several studies carried out on this topic and in different parts of the world, such as Psychological impact of coronavirus disease 2019 in pregnant women (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7204688/) and Moms Are Not OK: COVID-19 and Maternal Mental Health (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgwh.2020.00001/full), showed that pregnant women haven’t had a great experience throughout this pandemic.
It is well known that the physiological and hormonal changes that come with pregnancy sometimes lead to intense mood swings. There are a handful of reasons pregnant women may display mood swings or even meltdowns. A pandemic can undeniably affect all their feelings and emotions in a negative way. In fact, by finding themselves suddenly facing a tragic and dangerous time like the one we’re currently living in, many pregnant women went through a hard time. The pandemic intensified and enhanced all their worries and fears associated with pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period.
Among the general and most common worries, which got greater because of the pandemic and which were quoted in the above-mentioned studies, there is a risk of preterm delivery, fetal death or abnormalities, reduced mother-infant bonding, delays in cognitive/emotional development of the infant, and other potential adverse obstetrical outcomes. In addition, the physical distancing and isolation measures adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic brought pregnant women new, horrible worries and fears, such as that of contracting the virus or that of giving birth alone without their partners. The sedentary life, away from human contacts, normal routines, and chances of amusement has certainly made all this worse. Without counting that the reduced physical activity plays a crucial role in exacerbating depressive symptoms.
Researches were mainly based on interviews and questionnaires on self-reported levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety, and their results showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a substantial increase in the likelihood of these disorders.
How to handle stress and fight anxiety and depressive disorders during a pandemic?
Luckily, things are gradually getting better and better. In the majority of cases, women in labour are not alone anymore, social restrictions are lighter and intermittent, and there is much more information about testing positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. Anyway, some basic tips you may find helpful in coping with stress, given by the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Claudia Ravaldi and the toxicologist Alfredo Vannacci in the article Coronavirus: gravidanza e post-parto (2020), are:
- Get to know your stressing factor better.
- Get to know yourself better and try to understand how your stress response works.
- Get to know all the strategies and behaviours that are effective for you.
According to them, these are crucial elements in learning how to embrace worries for what they are, without minimizing or exaggerating them.
As for some healthy ways to handle anxiety and depressive disorders, some of which are suggested by Ravaldi and Vannacci (2020):
- Don’t quit physical activity (the endorphins release associated with it is essential).
- Eat healthily.
- Keep following your birthing/postpartum classes virtually.
- Take advantage of the time at your disposal to focus on yourself, your pregnant belly, and your child (for example, find out his/her habits and personality).
- Let what fills your head go by writing down on a personal diary all your feelings and emotions.
- Read some children’s lIterature or sing (it’s good both for you and your baby!).
As much as a pandemic or any other adversity may look awful, always remember to take good care of yourself, your baby, your body, and last but not least, your mind.