Managing Stress While Pregnant (or Postpartum) During a Global Pandemic
This is a distinctive time in all of our lives. Very few people alive today have lived through a global pandemic before now, and certainly none of the currently pregnant or newly pregnant people have. We are all navigating this together and for the very first time so we don’t know whether or not there is a “right” or “best” way to do it and if there is, what that might be.
Pregnancy and the initial postpartum period are already among the most stressful times in a person’s life without the added stress of all of this uncertainty and fear. No one really knows how long this will last or what it will mean for your birth and beyond, including how your prenatal care is structured, who you can safely have at your birth and what kind of support you can welcome into your home postpartum, not to mention the toll that being isolated in your home can have on your mental health. So, what can you do to cope? What will help?
One Day at a Time Really, this is a good motto for life. All you can really do is take one day at a time, especially during these times of acute stress. It’s too much to think about and manage all at once, so every morning wake up, check in with how you are feeling, and proceed to move through your day with intention and grace. Some days will be easier than others, so meet yourself wherever you are. Hopefully your harder days are different than the people in your life so you can support one another. Depending on how you are feeling, make a plan for your day to fill it with a mixture of activities that will keep you busy but not exhausted. Some days all you can manage is reading a book and eating chips while your toddler watches their iPad and that’s ok. At night before you go to bed, remind yourself that tomorrow is a different day. You will feel different and so will the world around you.
Be mindful of how much information you take in and what your sources are. Try to limit your exposure to mass media and stick to your local/regional/ provincial health authorities. Utilize your care provider in whatever manner they have established (likely remotely) and ask questions. I’ve been writing a weekly email for all of my patients full of updates as things are developing and changing on a daily basis. This may not be possible for every provider (or even most) but we all know that it helps everyone for our patients to be informed about what to expect when it comes to your prenatal care, the birth of your baby, and postpartum care. Prepare for your experience to be different than what you expected but know that, even behind our PPE (gowns/masks/shields) we still care and are doing what we can to keep YOU safe. We still want this to be a beautiful, positive experience for you and are doing our very best to preserve that.
This is not the time to completely forget about looking after yourself. You need to continue to nurture and grow your baby during pregnancy, and into postpartum, especially if you are breastfeeding. Keeping healthy will also help your body cope with extra stress. Now is the time to focus on feeding yourself healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and quality meats and seafood, exercising, sleeping, and staying hydrated. If you want to go a bit further and add supplements to your diet, I would start with Vitamin C and D, Calcium/Magnesium, DHA/EPA as well as a good quality prenatal or multivitamin
and continue all of these supplements into the postpartum period. Your nutritional needs do not decrease postpartum if you are breastfeeding (or even just recovering from delivery, vaginal or cesarean). Does this mean no treats? Of course not! Treat yourself, but be mindful of your choices and eat the healthy food first. I find it helpful to start my day with a smoothie that has a good amount of protein, frozen fruit, frozen spinach, a scoop of a greens supplement, vitamin D, an adrenal supplement, and sometimes cacao powder or almond butter to mix it up. I put everything I can in my smoothie because I find taking supplements really difficult. Once you start your day with a protein forward meal, you are both more likely to make healthy choices throughout the day and if you don’t, at least you’ve gotten the essentials in. Keep in mind that specific food choices might be more difficult to get at certain times and that’s ok, try something different. We are so lucky to continue to have these food options.
Mamas, you need other people, now more than ever. You might need to be creative and support might come in a different form than what you were planning but make a plan for how those around you can
help (childcare during delivery, support during delivery in case your partner can’t make it, support during the initial postpartum period). Maybe you have a friend who can be available for weekly checkins, which will likely support them as much as it does you. Maybe you need things for you baby that you can’t afford to buy or can’t get online right now. Ask for it! Most items can be cleaned and passed on by someone who no longer needs it. If you need help buying food or paying your bills, reach out. There is help available, sometimes in the most surprising places.
I touched on the importance of exercise for general health but really, exercise is probably one of the number one methods of stress reduction. You might have to get creative but try to move your body for at
least 30 minutes every day. Walk outside if you can do so safely or consider an online workout in your home. There are so many options. Try something for a week and if you don’t like it, move on to something
different. Make it a family affair if that is what works. Some days you might move slowly, other days you can move a little more. Stay in touch with how your body feels and use caution as you are more prone to injury during pregnancy and in the initial postpartum period.
Above all, be kind to yourself. None of us know how to do this. It’s ok to grieve the loss of things as your life has changed so dramatically. You can both understand why things have to be this way for now and also feel some sadness around it, simultaneously. It’s ok. One day at a time.
Stay safe and stay healthy!