When my daughter was born in October of last year, it seemed like they were letting anyone and everyone into the delivery room. Deciding I'd rather not have my dad and sister watch me give birth, I had to kick them out at the eleventh hour—and if someone had suggested I wear a mask as I pushed, I would have laughed in their face.
The weeks that followed included visits from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and too many friends to count. All brought food and cuddled my seven-pound baby in their arms, marveling at her newness. In short, I had a village of support—and it helped me get through those initial difficult weeks as my body healed with my mental health mostly intact.
Fast forward 10 months, and we're living in a completely different world. Women are giving birth in masks with only their partner by their side. Grandparents get to meet their grandchildren only after carefully quarantining for two weeks, worrying they'll infect the baby or themselves.
"New parents are particularly vulnerable right now," says Dr. Harvy Karp, pediatrician and founder of the SNOO smart bassinet. "An estimated one in five moms fall victim to perinatal mood disorders, such as postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, and another eight to 10 percent of fathers suffer with postpartum depression. That’s already an epidemic—one that stands to get much, much worse with sheltering place intensifying the isolating experience of early parenthood. Add a pandemic to the mix and, well, it can be overwhelming."
Meet the Expert
Dr. Harvey Karp is a trusted pediatrician and child development expert. He is also the founder and CEO of Happiest Baby, a smart-tech and parenting solutions company. Dr. Karp practiced pediatrics in L.A. for over 25 years. He is on the faculty of the USC School of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pandemic-Specific Worries and Too Much Alone Time
As someone who recently went through it, I can certainly attest to the anxieties of new parenthood. If my daughter slept for four hours at a time, I was constantly checking to see if she was still breathing when I should have been trying to get sleep myself. If a red mark appeared on her skin I obsessed over it, only to se it disappear an hour later.
Having a brand new baby in the midst of a pandemic sounds flat-out terrifying." On top of the day-to-day challenges of parenthood, it has plunged people deeper into isolation and layered on new fears and burdens," explains Karp. "For example, what if my tiny baby gets sick? What if I get sick? How can I care for my child and work from home? If my cousin comes to help, she might bring illness into our home. All rolled together, today's stressors are a recipe for postpartum depression and anxiety like we’ve never seen before."
And while new parents may be able to get emotional support via Zoom calls and texts, Karp emphasizes that not having what he calls "practical support" can be detrimental. "New parents are now stripped of precious practical support—someone to help make a meal or hold the baby for an hour while they nap or shower, catch up with chores, do a Zoom call, play with their toddler ... you get the picture," he says.
What to Do If You're a New Parent Struggling with Your Mental Health
While having your experience validated and knowing you're not alone can be helpful, there are also action steps you can take to start feeling a little better if you're struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression right now.
"Creating a solid support network is essential," says Dr. Patricia Celan, a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada. "Find other postpartum women with whom you can share your distress to validate and support each other, as well as connecting with friends and family who are not postpartum and can give you a less biased perspective in supporting and reassuring you through this difficult time."
And of course, no matter what level of mental health struggle you're dealing with right now, it's always a good idea to consult a professional. "This isn’t a problem that parents just need to stick out," says Karp. "If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, talk to your healthcare provider. She can help you come up with a pandemic-friendly treatment plan. Right now, many mental health professionals are offering their services virtually, meaning you could get the care you need without leaving home."
So, new moms (and dads!), hang in there. As alone as you might feel right now, you will eventually get your village back. Until then, take care of your mental health as best you can.