Pregnant During COVID-19: Scared, Lonely, and At-Risk

It’s natural to feel anxious during pregnancy. But if you were (or are) pregnant during COVID-19, that anxiety was probably even more intense.

During pregnancy, you went through a lot of physical and mental changes. One month you felt sick to your stomach but happy and excited for your new baby. The next month you felt enormous and exhausted and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

You worried about your baby being healthy, about labor, maternity leave—the list goes on.

Many women even worry about worrying during pregnancy. We know that a mother’s mental health can have a physical as well as emotional impact on her baby.

Then, the pandemic hit.

You wondered how it would affect your baby’s health if you caught the virus. You wore masks over masks because you heard that pregnant women and their unborn children might be more at risk.

Would your partner get ill and have to quarantine? Would you have to give birth alone?

What was barely manageable stress and anxiety turned into outright panic. When you would’ve reached out to your girlfriends, sisters, and parents, you instead had to lock yourself inside your home.

It was terrifying. And lonely.

According to researchers, expectant mothers who were pregnant during COVID experienced levels of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress much higher than expectant mothers the year before, pre-pandemic (Morris et al., 2021, January 14).

Thankfully, technology helped increase access to therapy with trained mental health professionals. And women who used this resource feel better able to cope.

The Pandemic Made Us All Anxious — But Especially Women Pregnant During COVID-19

A global pandemic was a new experience for everyone around the world. Young, old, rich, poor, the effects of the novel coronavirus reached us all.

We had to learn new ways of life and give up our normal routines. Some people had to work the front lines to fight the virus, and others protect themselves through isolation.

And pregnant women had to take on the life-changing time of becoming a mother in isolation.

Risks for Women Pregnant During COVID

Between normal pregnancy anxiety and the possibility of contracting the virus, women who were pregnant during COVID truly felt the risk.

Health

During the pandemic, normal risks involved with pregnancy were amplified by the risk of contracting the virus.

Research suggested that infection with coronavirus during pregnancy was linked to preterm birth and possibly transmitting the virus to the new baby (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021, May 13; Naurin et al., 2021, February).

Sometimes, women who may have had COVID-19 weren’t allowed to breastfeed or even see their new babies (Morris et al., 2021, January 14).

Stress and Anxiety

Researchers in Sweden followed pregnant women from before the pandemic in 2019 through the height of the pandemic in 2020. They found that women who were pregnant during COVID were significantly more stressed and anxious about their health and the health of their babies than pregnant women just months before (Naurin et al., 2021, February).

High levels of stress and anxiety during any pregnancy can lead to preterm delivery or low birth weight (Dunkel Schetter & Tanner, 2012). And what could be more stressful or anxiety-inducing than isolation and worry on a global scale?

Before any threat of COVID-19, you were already worried about becoming a mother. You worried about the changes in your body and your lifestyle, and the general health of your baby. And when the virus began to spread, you worried about this scary and seemingly unpredictable illness.

You may have also worried about whether your partner could attend the labor. Or would you have to give birth alone?

And after you gave birth, would you be able to nurse your baby if you tested positive?

Social Support for Women Pregnant During COVID

Research shows that social support helps the most for depression both during pregnancy and after (Morris et al., 2021, January 14). That means being surrounded by your friends and family can help keep depression and anxiety at bay.

Going for lunch with your girlfriends, calling up your mom, or meeting regularly with your faith group are all part of maintaining good mental and physical health—especially during times of major life change like pregnancy.

For women who were pregnant during COVID, contact with that social support was limited at best. Even if your friends and family were meeting up, you may have chosen not to, as you were in a high-risk category.

The safety of your baby was paramount, but the isolation took its toll on you and built a wall of loneliness and stress around your life.

Support Through Telehealth & Online Therapy

The good news is that during the pandemic, alternative options to face-to-face therapy became more widely available.

You can still get help via telehealth and online therapy to find support during this transitional, and sometimes challenging, time after the birth of your child.  

Online therapy and telehealth are excellent options for any woman who was, or still is, pregnant during COVID because they’re:

  • Safe

There is no risk of transmission of the Coronavirus, or any other virus, with virtual or telehealth sessions.

  • Effective

Clients who see a professional therapist via telehealth or online platforms see the same benefits as clients who attend in-person sessions. And you don’t have to wear a mask, so in videoconferencing you can see your therapist’s face and they can see yours.

  • Convenient

There’s no travel time to get to the office, and you can attend session while holding or even nursing your baby.

Support Through Strong Relationships

The other most powerful resource for women who were pregnant during COVID is their relationship with their partner.

Researchers have found that strong relationships can help reduce psychological distress (Morris et al., 2021, January 14) and pull you through difficult times. That’s why it’s so important to invest in that relationship.

Lean on your partner and allow them to see the struggles you’re having. Ask for help and let them hold your hand. Know that approaching this challenging time as a team will strengthen your connection and make the darkness and uncertainty of depression and anxiety a little bit lighter.

About Dr. Irena

Dr. Irena is a certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist who offers online therapy for women and couples in Houston, The Woodlands, and New York City.  She has over 20 years’ experience in working with online therapy and helping women through the challenges of pregnancy and early motherhood.

If you’d like to schedule a session, email her for a free 10-minute virtual consultation:  [email protected] or call (281)-267-1742.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 13). Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 during Pregnancy. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/special-populations/pregnancy-data-on-covid-19/what-cdc-is-doing.html

Dunkel Schetter, C., & Tanner, L. (2012). Anxiety, depression and stress in pregnancy: implications for mothers, children, research, and practice. Current opinion in psychiatry, 25(2), 141-148. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283503680

Morris, A. R., Traube, D., Lakshmanan, A., West, A., & Saxbe, D. (2021, January 14). Perinatal Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence for Heightened Distress in Pregnant Women Highlights the Need for Novel Interventions.

Naurin, E., Markstedt, E., Stolle, D., Enstrom, D., Wallin, A., Andreasson, I., Attebo, B., Eriksson, O., Martinsson, K., Elden, H., Linden, K., & Sengpiel, V. (2021, February). Pregnant under the pressure of a pandemic: a large-scale longitudinal survey before and during the COVID-19 outbreak. European Journal of Public Health, 31(1), 7-13. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckaa223

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