4 ways to cope psychologically as a parent (to-be) during the Covid-19 pandemic

“Those 7 hours waiting my turn for my C-section, in isolation, was hard! I looked through the window to see other mums-to-be who were also waiting their turns. All of us smiled at each other in solidarity. If ever I wanted to feel the power of non-verbal communication and its ability to connect us to one another, this was it: ‘we are in this together, we will all be fine’, we silently comforted each other from a distance"

Dr Punam Krishan

who gave birth on 31 March

This is what we need you to hear: we are in this with you and we are here for you. The times are extremely challenging. We understand that. We are collecting data and insights to canvas opinion on the impact Covid-19 is having on the choices available to parents-to-be. Share with us how you are and how you are experiencing the situation by completing this quick survey. If you are due to give birth, particularly if you’ve suffered a traumatic birth previously, you might be struggling with a feeling you’ve lost all control. Having to let go of your plans or facing difficult scenarios like birthing without your partner of choice, or alone. If you’ve just had your baby, being in a lockdown without the ability to see loved ones, is likely not how you envisioned your first weeks.

But there are ways to cope. Here’s how.

  1. Use reliable sources

"It’s been hard to avoid the constant stream of news reports and persistent social media posts with scary and possibly false information. If anything has concerned me, I've checked with my midwife who is still available for me to talk to.”

Lily Herbertson

who gave birth on 15 March

Ignoring the news is likely one of the best gifts to give yourself at the moment - check out from social media and news streams if it’s not helpful for you. Here’s how you make sure to stay up-to-date but only with information relevant to you.

  • Focus on the facts and make sure to get them from reliable sources. Royal College of Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have published a joined guidance.

  • World Health Organisation made an infographics for maternity care during COVID-19 which is available here.

  • If you have any concerns or questions, always start by contacting your midwife for the latest guidance.

  • Find a good source relevant to your NHS Trust. It is very likely that your local trust will also have a Covid-19 helpline where questions can be answered or be posting regular updates on social media. Some trusts, like the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, have put together a document with maternity advice.

2. Know your rights

“I’m glad I got to know my options as it allowed me to feel more in control when things started to change because of the virus.”

Lily Herbertson

It’s understandable you might feel uncertain about your rights in the light of Covid-19 guidelines. Feel empowered to ask questions. AIMS (Association for Improvement in Maternity Services) have a helpline which can be reached at +44 (0) 300 365 0663. To understand your rights in birth have a look at the Birthrights website or use their email form to request advice.

3. Use these support tools

Our brain really hates uncertainty and we’ve been plunged into a textbook high-uncertainty situation. That means we, especially those more prone to anxiety, have to be very deliberate in the way we manage uncertainty over the coming weeks.”

Kimberly Wilson, Chartered Psychologist

We have put together a list of helpful tools for pregnancy, birth and beyond. From YouTube series to informative articles and online communities. There are some other free to access resources we are aware of and we will continue to update. If you feel like you need support during pregnancy or postnatally, please contact your midwife, Health Visitor or GP. Mental health services are still running remotely and help should be available to you via the NHS.

  • Doulas Jenna Rutherford (The Minimalist Doula and creator of earthside, an online postnatal course) and Natalie Meddings (author of How To Have a Baby and Why Home Birth Matters) have recorded a YouTube series (5 episodes) How To Give Birth In Hospital during the pandemic.

  • Make Birth Better’s Community Lead Sakina Ballard founded the Real Birth Project to positively impact the emotional and physical wellbeing experiences of birthing people and their families in pregnancy, birth and parenthood. The Real Birth Project Facebook Community is a safe, supportive, non-judgemental space open to all parents(to-be). You can ask questions and share stories. Sakina and other share posts weekly too.

  • Dr Emma Svanberg, Make Birth Better Co-founder and Clinical Psychologist, runs The Village Facebook Community offering support and solidarity to all parents(to-be) without judgement. A safe place to explore the ups and downs of being a parent, particularly in these unprecedented times.

  • Dr Emma Svanberg has also written The ABCD of Coronavirus Anxiety to explain the psychological processes we’re going through. She says: “At times like this, it can be helpful to find ways to contain our anxiety and focus on what is ok. Focus on what we can do and not what we can’t. Focus on what is happening right now and not what could happen. One way of containing anxiety is better understanding how it is caused and maintained. That’s what th ABCD is all about.”

  • Anya Hayes, author of The Supermum Myth and founder of Mother’s Wellness Toolkit offers a Welcome to Motherhood Free course, providing healing tools for body and mind. You can DM her on Instagram to join the group.

  • There are a number of Instagram accounts currently providing evidence-based information, such as happyparents.happybaby,  theobgynmum, drpunamkrishan, avivaromm

  • Kimberly Wilson, Chartered Psychologist, started #FlattenTheAnxietyCurve where she shares useful videos and tools on how to manage anxiety and uncertainty.

  • Consultant Perinatal Psychologist, Julianne Boutaleb, founder of therapist practice Parenthood In Mind shares some great advice in a piece on the Independent website called What it feels like to be pregnant during a pandemic. Julianne Boutaleb: “It’s about having a plan B, maybe a plan C and D as well, in case your partner becomes ill or if indeed you don’t have a partner. Gather some sense of who is available, who is well, who could stand in for the birth partner if necessary. Starting to talk with people about those sorts of scenarios.”

  • The Help Hub is a helpline which has been set up to support individuals who find themselves with limited contact due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus. They aim to provide a free service for as many people as possible by listening, supporting and helping where they can.

  • Anna Freud (National Centre for Children and Families) is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of infants, children and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic. Subscribe to their newsletter for webinars and information.

  • The Birth Trauma Association and Facebook Group offer information, support and guidance for getting help if you had a traumatic birthing experience.

4. Read our positive birth stories

I feel an unexpected sense of resilience and pride about having birthed in the current circumstances. It’s definitely buoyed my mental health.”

Dr Cathy Gaynor who gave birth on 27 March 

On our Make Birth Better Instagram account we are sharing honest reflections from parents as well as positive experiences and information from up-to-speed professionals.

Lily Herbertson, illustrator and mother of two, kicked off. Make sure to read her honest and wonderfully uplifting story. Lily was planning a home birth but had to go to hospital because of Covid-19 guidelines: My candles stayed unlit, my music was never played, my essential oils were unused. But my birth was still positive.” She is able to see many positives in these unusual circumstances: “Being in isolation has forced us to slow down. We've had two weeks of uninterrupted peace and quiet and we've had space to bond just the four of us. Breastfeeding is going so much better than with my first and I honestly put it down to the last two weeks having the privacy to clumsily figure it out, spending hours on end practicing skin-to-skin and getting to know my newborn and what he needs. My daughter has bonded so well with her little brother as the quietness has felt so uncomplicated. She's had the security of spending two weeks with just her mum and dad and her new brother, she’s felt able to react and adapt in a safe environment with her safe people.”

Like we said, we are in this with you and we are here for you. We will leave you with the positive birth story of Clinical Psychologist, Dr Cathy Gaynor. She shares some great coping tools and silver linings for before and after your delivery we recommend using or reminding yourself of. Please make sure to keep an eye on our Instagram page for more uplifting reads.

“I gave birth to Toby on 27 March. I chose to have an elective C-section as I had a difficult first birth resulting in an emergency caesarean. The policy regarding partners on the postnatal ward changed that morning. We were only told when we arrived at the hospital that my husband Stephen would have to leave once I was moved out of recovery. So 2 to 6 hours post birth. It definitely felt like a blow and was quite hard to take in. The other families booked (some first-time parents) were also told at the same time and the spike in anxiety in the room was palpable. I really struggled emotionally postnatally last time and was anxious about how I would be without Stephen. 

Ahead of surgery this is how I coped:

  • Uncertainty doesn’t equal a definite awful experience. I focused on maternity experiences to date without Stephen and how they had been ok. I’d had a scan and several trips to the maternity assessment unit which had had to be solo because of Covid-19 restrictions. All had been fine and the staff were lovely. 

  • Focus on what is certain. I was in the hospital, we were going to meet our baby, there were supportive midwives around and I wasn’t going into this birth exhausted after 4 days of failed induction like the first time around! Also, I had a great view of Westminster!

  • Be gentle with yourself. It’s natural to feel anxious and teary. The news that Stephen would have to leave was a shock. It helped me knowing other mums were feeling the same. But again feeling fearful doesn’t mean the worst will happen. I tried to refocus on the here and now. I took each part of the experience one step at a time. 

  • There are always ways to stay in touch. I focused on how Stephen and I could stay in touch and the benefits of him being well-rested for when I got home.

  • Most of your birth preferences can likely still happen. I reminded myself of this and what I needed from professionals to help me have a more positive experience. We had various bits planned for the section which could all still go ahead, like music, a lowered curtain and immediate skin-to-skin. 

On the postnatal ward there were silver linings (despite the obvious sadness and anxiety that Stephen had to leave): 

  • Quiet postnatal wards. The bays weren’t full. There were no visitors and snoring partners so it felt more of a protective space just for us mums.

  • The support from other mums. We all looked out for each other. Another mum ensured I got breakfast (even though the midwives would have too!), we chatted and shared sadness and joy. There was a definite supportive sense of being in it together and women wrapped around women.

  • Supportive staff. Staff were lovely and very mindful of women being on their own. Even though they were stretched at times they never once made me feel like a bother pressing the bell for help. So ask for help! However often you need it. 

  • You can stay connected. Stephen couldn’t physically be with me but we spoke and messaged regularly. I sent photos. He could be at home with our little girl. He didn’t have to sleep in a reclining chair, let’s face it the postnatal ward isn’t really geared up for partners sadly. 

  • Lots of things are still there to enjoy. I could still do lots as planned despite the restrictions, like announce the birth, chat to friends and watch trashy box sets whilst having cuddles!

  • Be proud of yourself. I feel an unexpected sense of resilience and pride about having birthed in the current circumstances. It’s definitely buoyed my mental health.

Dr Cathy Gaynor

© Make Birth Better CIC 2019

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