The unprecedent Covid-19 pandemic has brought a long list of challenges. For many, the intersection of ‘staying safe while preserving sanity’, is still a blurry line. But for expecting families, the uncertainties about how the virus may impact fetal development combined with the social isolation and the frequent changes to safety guidelines; contribute to even more intense feelings of fear, doubt, and stress as they navigate this most special moment in the most unusual of circumstances.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, “pregnant and recently pregnant women are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than nonpregnant women”. The CDC also states that if infected, pregnant people are at higher risk for having complications, such as preterm labor and other adverse outcomes. The warning is not to be taken lightly. In Mississippi, since the pandemic started, the number of stillbirths after 20-weeks has doubled. Overall, more than 20,000 pregnant people have been hospitalized due to Covid-19 across the country.
Keeping you and baby safe (and calm), is no small task. Consider these suggestions to help you be present, bond with your belly, and keep excessive stress and anxiety at bay.
Identify trusted sources of information and ask your own questions
There’s still a lot left to discover on how Covid-19 affects fetal development. But the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are all great places to start learning about the recommendations and guidelines for expecting families. If there’s a consensus among multiple reliable sources, there’s strong evidence those measures are very effective and worth taking.
As much as possible, you should also consult with your medical providers and ask them to answer your questions to the best of their knowledge. Even though much is yet unknown about the virus, new information is constantly coming out and your doctor is highly invested in learning about it. Taking the time to discuss your concerns and medical history with them will help you decide what’s best for you and your baby.
Be consistent with your safety measures
Because pregnancy can already have a taxing effect on the body’s immune system, pregnant people are considered to be at higher risk for contracting Covid-19. In states that do not have mandated safety measures, it is important to be consistent with what you choose to do. There may be certain unavoidable risks, especially if you’re working at the front lines of this pandemic. But choosing your social activities and level of additional exposure carefully is highly important as it is yours and baby’s health that are at stake. Follow the recommendations and mandates to avoid unnecessary risks and communicate to friends and family what safety measures you feel comfortable with them taking around you and your baby.
Take advantage of virtual learning
Knowledge is power. Social isolation caused by the pandemic has been particularly challenging for pregnant and postpartum people. Whether going through it alone or with a partner, for the first time or the third – every pregnancy and every birth experience is unique. While in-person group classes, workshops and simply hanging out with other parents may be temporarily out of reach, take advantage of what is available virtually.
Technology has changed significantly and can more authentically connect participants and promote a sense of community and belonging. Some expecting families may also find virtual learning to be more time efficient and an opportunity to expand their knowledge base and broaden topics of interest. Perhaps there’s a class you wish you could have taken during your first pregnancy, or you may have more time to go deeper into newborn care or preparing for breastfeeding. Keep a growth mindset and turn the social distancing from a challenge to an advantage. Baby Live Advice offers an extensive list of classes and support groups from welcoming baby home to breastfeeding, and newborn care. Not to mention virtual appointments with lactation specialists, midwives and nutritionists are all on demand, and available in over 250 languages.
Try the 80/20 rule to help you stay positive
For some pregnant people the pressure to stay safe from the virus and physically and mentally healthy can be quite overwhelming. For example, you may want to stay active, but feel afraid to go to the gym. Or you might wish to register for a birthing class, but there are none being offered. The pressure to ‘do-it-alone’ can trigger a feeling of helplessness and generate even more stress and anxiety.
To break this cycle, and take back your sense of agency, try applying the 80/20 rule (also called the Pareto principle), where out of a list of 10 items, you choose 2 to focus on. Items can be anything you want. For example, you may list your ‘goals’ for this pregnancy, or things you need pay close attention to. Once you make your list, be honest with yourself and realistic about what can be done – you’re choosing just 2 items from your list of 10.
For example, if one of your priorities is to focus on mental health and staying calm during this ‘pandemic pregnancy’, you might find that increasing communications with your medical provider(s), or carving 15-30 minutes for self-care every day, or doing an activity that you enjoy, can help you achieve this. Nearly everything now comes with a ‘virtual/remote’ option: telemedicine, exercise, meditation, book clubs, painting classes, you name it, you can find it online. Be creative in finding what suits you or what is most appealing and stay positive by knowing you are working towards your defined goals.
Whatever you choose, avoid aiming at every item on your list and try to apply the 80/20 rule instead. This will help you set priorities and remember that ‘ideal’ plans help no one. It can also restore your sense of control, knowing that you are taking action towards something you want to do and adapting to the limitations that this difficult and uncertain time may present. In the long-term, gradual progress is much more sustainable. As we often say as parents, ‘slow and steady’ wins the race.
 Source: CDC Website, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#pregnant-population