Tips for dealing with anxiety and social isolation during pregnancy and after having a baby

We are experiencing uncertain and unsettling times in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Heightened levels of stress during this time can make it difficult for expectant and new parents to fully experience the joy of having a baby and to deal effectively with stressors and mental health concerns that can arise during this time. The need to physically distance can also increase feelings of isolation and limit much needed support from family and the community for new parents. Given these very real difficulties, it has never been more important for expecting and new parents to care for themselves and their families. Below you will also find some tips on how to cope with anxiety during pregnancy and following birth during this time, tips for self-care and an outline of the online and PIRI mental health support options available to you.

New and expectant parents can also find additional helpful information for dealing with stress during this period at Head to Health (https://headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support/covid-19).

On this website you can find tips for how to maintain Good Mental Health (https://headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support/covid-19#maintaining-good-mental-health) (maintain a healthy lifestyle, stay informed, stay positive, access support during this pandemic) as well as useful Psychological Tips) (https://headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support/covid-19/psychological-tips) (including balancing your thoughts, shutting down the noise and doing the things that you enjoy and that are good for you) for improving your mental health during this time.

Expecting mums and their families can find up-to-date information on pregnancy and birth during COVID-19 here (https://ranzcog.edu.au/statements-guidelines/covid-19-statement/information-for-pregnant-women) from Dr. Vijay Roach, President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Explore the tools we offer on MumSpace www.mumspace.com.au
During times of stress, negative feelings can escalate. MumSpace connects you to free and effective online programs and apps developed for Australian mums to deal with depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after birth.
•  MumMoodBooster
Is a simple-to-use evidence-based online CBT treatment for postnatal depression and anxiety. Mum2BMoodBooster is the pregnancy version. Sessions are interactive, tailored to your problems and have been found to be highly effective by many women.
•  MindMum
MindMum is a mobile phone app to help you cope at times of stress and provides useful tips and ideas to support your emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after having baby. This can be freely downloaded from MumSpace.
•  What Were We Thinking!
What Were We Thinking is an Australian website and mobile application that supports new mums and dads in learning? practical skills for settling babies and adjusting to changes in their relationship with each other.
•  Baby Steps
Baby Steps provides information to parents on caring for baby and themselves to enhance the wellbeing of new mums and dads.

 

+ Tips for Coping with Anxiety of COVID-19 during Pregnancy and Following Birth

Focus on what you can control
It’s natural that in times of crisis to experience some anxiety and for your mind to wander to what can’t be controlled (e.g., what will happen to the country’s economy, how will the Government deal with the crisis and how will our loved ones  be affected).
Unfortunately we can’t control the actions of others or the future but we can control our own behaviour. This includes what we DO right now to help us adjust to the situation, to improve our own mental health, our relationships with others and to be the person we want to be during this crisis. Below are more tips that might help you to achieve this.

Stay connected and engaged
Find ways to stay socially connected to people and activities during physical isolation. Never has it been more important to plan to connect with others as the opportunity for incidental social interaction is reduced. You will need to be creative in how you plan to do this. It is so important to maintain well being. The way you modify connecting with family and friends may vary. For example, you might post a letter to your grandmother, sharing photos from your ultrasound. Other examples may include meeting your friends from mothers’ group in an online group chat, or in a video call. Many mother-baby activities, such as story time and rhythm time are now currently being offered via online platforms. See what is available to you through your library network and on YouTube.

Keep active
Your physical wellbeing is connected to your emotional wellbeing. Find some time to build 30 minutes of movement into your daily routine. Consider going for a walk with your baby or your partner, or participate in a free movement class on YouTube, such as movement classes for Mum and baby, or pregnancy yoga. Keeping motivated to be physical active is easier if you include someone else, a partner or friend who can also log into the same You Tube class while on facetime with you.

Create some structure in your day
Keeping a healthy daily routine supports emotional and mental wellbeing. The COVID-19 physical? distancing measures can create changes to regular routines as we are no longer able to participate in some of our usual day-to-day activities. Consider what activities are meaningful to you and your family and how you can modify these during COVID-19. Take some time to create structure in your daily routine – this will help you with planning and organisation, and also create predictability for you and your baby.
If you are working at home or doing home schooling an extra challenge is how to find ways to structure the day for everyone.

Identify your resources and people to support your well-being
Consider who is a member of your support team and what resources are available to you at this time – even at a distance. You can find additional perinatal mental health supports here

Focus on what matters
Stay in touch with your values, the things that matter most to you. Your personal values may include family, love, caring, honesty and more. Tune into your core values and how they may guide your daily actions. For example, spending time bathing your baby aligns with values of love, caring and family or phoning a family member to check in with them aligns with your values of family connection and caring. While many of your regular activities may have changed or have been modified, look for opportunities to continue value-based action each day.

Take a moment
Take a moment to notice how you are feeling. Notice your breath and mindfully take a moment to slow your breathing. This will help calm your body and your mind.
There are various helpful techniques to support feeling calm – MindMum has Calm Tracks that assist with calm breathing and support mindful engagement in activities with your baby. You can also search for other resources to help you to work on mindfulness and feeling calm and relaxed.

Seek relevant information from trusted sources and limit media exposure
Currently, there is a lot of information about COVID-19 in the news and on social media platforms. Keep informed by accessing reliable information from reputable organisations and consider finding one or two trusted resources that you can refer to. Continual reference to COVID-19 in the news and in our daily conversations can also be overwhelming and increase our feelings of worry and anxiety. One way to minimise associated anxiety is to set a time limit on how much COVID-19 related news you tune into during the day.

Reflect on the positives
In amidst these challenging and stressful times, there are also many stories of strength and hope being shared around the world. Taking the time to focus on these stories can be heart-warming and uplifting, and allow us to remain positively connected to others in our community. One example of kindness in our community is the social movement of #thekindnesspandemic.

+ Tips for Coping with Social Isolation During Pregnancy and After Having your Baby

Maintain mental health through physical exercise

    ○ While exercise outdoors is allowed, continue to get out and go for a walk, while maintaining social distancing rules. Why not call a friend who is also walking with their baby in another location?
    ○ When your baby is sleeping, use YouTube to participate in a yoga class or home workout.

Maintain social contact

    ○ Use apps such as Zoom or House party to catch up with friends and family in the evening or play board games.
    ○ Exercise with friends over Zoom by doing workouts together.
    ○ Identify friends and family who provide emotional support and continue to reach out when you need help.

“Time-out” for you and “Time-in” with your Baby
Having time for yourself is important to maintain your own wellbeing but can feel more difficult when you are in isolation with your baby. It may be that your partner is also working from home and can be included in caring for your baby. Some small but powerful ways you can take some moments to yourself include:

    ○ When your baby is asleep, use this time to do things for yourself e.g., take a shower, put on some clean clothes and sit down with a cup of tea.
    ○ Walk with your baby and notice what is happening around you in your neighbourhood in your environment.

Some ways to have “time-out” while enjoying “time-in” with your baby:

    ○ When your baby wants a cuddle, tune into your senses and allow yourself to enjoy the moment.
    ○ Do some baby Pilates or baby yoga (see YouTube for Videos)
    ○ Put on some music you enjoy and dance with your baby
    ○ Notice the small things your baby does, maybe take a photo and share with partner, family and friends.
    ○ Watch your baby as she plays and wonder about what they are thinking or what the world looks like from their point of view.
    ○ When video-chatting to friends or family try to sometimes involve your baby in interactions.
    ○ Enhance your enjoyment of parenting by learning about and noticing your baby’s cues and how they might like to be soothed (see MumSpace programs What Were We Thinking and Baby Steps).
    ○ Disconnecting from the social media apps that you engage with for some time each day (e.g., Instagram and Facebook). Use this time to reflect on the things in your life that you are grateful for.
    ○ Try to plan some variation in your day, play in different rooms with different toys, make funny faces, dress up with crazy hats or scarves etc. Enjoy yourself and your baby will be enchanted by you too.

Use creativity to celebrate the milestones

    ○ Events you were looking forward to, such as your baby shower or child’s birthday party may have been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. This is not what you had planned or expected. Consider creative ways you can celebrate these moments and milestones. To celebrate with your loved ones, you may choose to host an online baby shower on Zoom, or have your friends and family join you via Facetime to sing happy birthday to your 1-year-old.

Spend quality time with your partner or your house mate

    ○ Make evenings on the weekend special by having a night in with a nice meal.

Mindful moments with your baby and your senses

    ○ Tune into your five senses

      ▪ Savour the experience of eating, listening to music and being with your baby by really tuning into your senses when you engage in these activities.

Engage in activities that give you a sense of accomplishment

    ○ Write a list of activities that give you a sense of achievement or purpose. These can be every day activities such as sorting through your emails and messages.
    ○ Create a plan that builds in these activities into your daily routine

+ Support for Mums and their Partners

As a new or expectant parent, you and your partner may be experiencing additional stress or anxiety during COVID-19, made harder due to social distancing. If you are feeling worried or stressed at this time, support is available. The tips below are designed to help you consider how you and your partner are managing wellbeing and reduce the impact of COVID-19 related stressors on your physical and mental health.

You and your partner
If you are both feeling stressed, you may both struggle to communicate your needs. Consider how you and your partner can support each other. It can be helpful to set aside some time to do something relaxing or enjoyable together. This may include recreating a special night in together such as ordering your favourite food from your local restaurant, or watching a movie when baby is asleep.

Be kind to yourself
You are juggling a lot at the moment. Becoming a parent is one of life’s biggest transitions and it takes time to adjust to this role and the associated challenges and joys of parenthood. Additional changes may have also occurred for you and your family at this time. Many of us have transitioned to working remotely, or have lost employment. These unforeseen circumstances can understandably lead to additional stress and fatigue. While this is not what you had envisioned as a new or expectant parent, you are responding the best you can. It is helpful to be realistic about the expectations placed on yourself at this time. Speak kindly to yourself, as you would a good friend. Together, we are all learning how to best navigate the way forward.

Stay connected with others
While we may be physically isolated from many friends and family during this time, using digital technology and other means to stay socially connected with friends and family is important for our wellbeing. Arrange a time to talk with friends via phone or video, or organise a group chat with other parents you know. Online parent groups are also available for both mums and dads and are a great way to connect with people who understand the challenges and joys of being a new parent.

Look after your physical health
Taking care of your physical health has many benefits for your mental wellbeing. Look for opportunities to stay physically active and try to incorporate regular exercise where possible. Consider what activities would fit best with your modified routine, which may also include your partner or baby. Healthy eating habits, drinking plenty of water and trying to keep a good sleep routine, where possible, will also help support your general health.

Find the balance
Trying to maintain a daily routine can be a helpful way to manage at home during COVID-19. Review your day-to-day activities and build in opportunities to do the things you enjoy with your partner and baby, alongside the daily “have tos”. Speak to your partner to plan an opportunity where you can both set aside some alone time to relax and unwind, even if it is for 20 minutes to garden, or go for a bike ride.

Talking to get help
When we feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, we may be tempted to ignore or avoid our feelings. This may feel helpful in the short-term but in the long term these feelings can build up. Having someone to confide in can lighten the load and support your mental health. Think about your trusted supports and people that you can reach out to. This may be a parent, partner, or friend.

If you are noticing a prolonged period of feeling anxious or down or concerned about your mental health, professional supports are available. Many psychologists and GP’s are currently offering appointments via telehealth during COVID-19. Chat to your GP to book an appointment and develop a helpful support plan.

Seek relevant information from trusted sources and limit media exposure
Currently, there is a lot of information about COVID-19 in the news and on social media platforms. Keep informed by accessing reliable information from reputable organisations and consider finding one or two trusted resources that you can refer to. Continual reference to COVID-19 in the news and in our daily conversations can also be overwhelming and increase our feelings of worry and anxiety. One way to minimise associated anxiety is to set a time limit on how much COVID-19 related news you tune into during the day.

What help is available During Pregnancy and After for feelings of depression and anxiety during COVID19?

Support from MumSpace
MumSpace is an initiative led by PIRI and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health. MumSpace connects you to free and effective online support resources during pregnancy and after birth.
•  MumMoodBooster
Is an evidence-based online program that is designed to support women experiencing postnatal depression and anxiety. Mum2BMoodBooster provides support for women experiencing depression and anxiety during pregnancy
•  MindMum
MindMum is a mobile phone app to help you cope at times of stress and provides useful tips and ideas to support your emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after having baby. This can be freely downloaded from MumSpace.
•  What Were We Thinking!
What Were We Thinking is an Australian website and mobile application that supports new mums and dads in learning? practical skills for settling babies and adjusting to changes in their relationship with each other.
•  Baby Steps
Baby Steps is a program that aims to enhance the wellbeing of new mums and dads. Baby Steps provides information to parents on caring for baby and themselves.


Support for parents from the Parent-Infant Research Institute

Austin Health Perinatal Mental Health Clinic
The Perinatal Mental Health Clinic (PMHC) at Austin Health provides an intake and treatment service for parents during pregnancy and the first two years of their baby’s life. Our clinicians specialise in adjustment difficulties experienced by parents. Further information on this service can be accessed here.

Bupa Parent and Baby Wellbeing Program
Bupa, in association with PIRI, have developed the Parent and Baby Wellbeing program – a perinatal psychological support service for parents who have Bupa hospital cover. This service is available across all states and territories of Australia and supports mums and dads during pregnancy and in the first two years of their baby’s life. Further information can be found here.

Beating the Blues before Birth
Beating the Blues is an evidence-based treatment study for mums experiencing depression during pregnancy. Mums who join the study are offered either cognitive behavioural therapy for depression (delivered via telehealth) during pregnancy or an assessment with advice about enhanced standard care. Click here if you would like to find out further information in participating in this study

Need further support
Many psychologists and GP’s are currently offering appointments via telehealth during COVID-19. If you need further support, contact your GP to book an appointment.

For Urgent Support

Further information on COVID-19
Health authorities in Australia are providing the latest information and advice.

    •  The latest information on COVID-19 from the Australian government can be found here.
    •  The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides evidence-base information for pregnant women and their families during COVID-19 here.
    •  Further psychological tips during COVID-19 can be found at Head to Health