Support for New Moms During COVID-19, the Reopening, and Beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a bright spotlight on mental-health needs in our society, and has really shown us all how much social interaction and self-care are essential pieces of maintaining our mental well‑being. One population that has been particularly impacted is new mothers.
New moms have always been somewhat de-prioritized after giving birth—everyone's focus is on Baby’s development and health—leaving some new moms feeling isolated. But the pandemic has amplified these struggles. From the moment of birth, many new moms have been unable to have their support people in the delivery or recovery rooms. And in the weeks after, very few of the usual avenues of postpartum self-care have been available to them, including family visits, help with childcare, outings, mother-child classes or support groups, or recreational activities.
The Added Burden of Pandemic Anxiety
Without consistent support, a new mom is left with her own anxious thoughts. As the pandemic raged, the worries new moms typically have about their baby’s health and well‑being intensified. A July 2020 University of Colorado study showed that 40 percent of new moms felt lonely, and 60 percent reported high anxiety during the pandemic. Worries about COVID-19 exposure as well as vaccination safety for pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding mothers have added to the seemingly infinite number of things a new mom has to worry about.
The same study also points to what works best to assist new moms during this difficult time. Factors that gave new moms resilience included receiving emotional support from their partners, being outdoors and in nature, having structure and routine, prioritizing self-care, practicing gratitude, and managing expectations. Partners and support people can embrace their role by encouraging moms to take time to focus on themselves, to share their feelings, to create a manageable structure for their time, and to engage in activities that bring them joy.
Reopening Brings New Concerns
While the end of the pandemic may be coming into sight, many of us—including new moms who are responsible not just for their own safety but for a tiny baby’s—feel anxious about how, how much, how quickly to open up to the support we know we desperately need. Friends and loved ones are also probably feeling anxious to meet the adorable new additions to the family.
Although all of us are feeling a desire to connect or reconnect with the people most important to us, it’s important to keep in mind that supporting new moms also means respecting their boundaries about the kind of support they feel comfortable and safe accepting.
How You Can Help
Here are some practical tips for partners, family members, and others who care about and want to support new moms during this time:
1. Offer support in ways other than in-person. Recognize that while support is what's needed, it doesn't have to come in the form of a visit. You might reach out with a phone call to see how a new mom is feeling, give her time to vent or express her feelings, and connect her with resources if she needs more mental-health care. Postpartum Support International is a great resource for parents and family members and includes resources on perinatal mental health, peer support, and a therapy provider directory.
2. Ask about their comfort level with in-person meetings. Each new mom and family have their own unique concerns related to COVID-19, so it’s important to ask what feels comfortable and what guidelines they may have in place. Many new moms feel pressured by family members, which can contribute to further isolation and negative feelings. If a new parent wants to wait until family members are fully vaccinated or until Baby has reached a certain age or milestone, these parameters must be respected.
3. Get specific with your offer of assistance. Asking new moms to “let you know what they need” creates additional pressure on them to decide or know what they need when they are physically and emotionally exhausted. Instead of creating more mental labor for Mom, think about things that might make their life easier and ask if you can do them. The more specific your offer, the more likely a mom might be to take you up on it. Some specific help you might offer could include watching the baby while Mom rests or practices self-care (if comfortable for the family), dropping off a meal, purchasing a self-care app or tool for them, meeting for a walk or other activity when they are ready.
As we all come out of this difficult time that has maxed our stress response and coping capacity to their limits, think about any new or expecting mothers you might know. Consider how you might support them and their new baby and get creative about how you can show you care.
Jessie Everts, Ph.D., L.M.F.T. is a therapist, mom, yoga/mindfulness teacher, and author of Brave New Mom: A Survival Guide for Mindfully Navigating Postpartum Motherhood.
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