As the coronavirus sweeps the globe, expectant and new mothers face changes to almost every aspect of pregnancy and early motherhood.
Antenatal visits are being reduced or conducted via phone, face-to-face antenatal classes have been cancelled, visitors to maternity wards have been restricted to partners only and mothers' groups as we know them can no longer take place.
Pregnant women, new mums and their families are understandably confused, anxious and in need of increased support during these uncertain times.
Quality information and support
Perinatal mental health organisations around the country have adapted their resources and services to support women and families in the face of changed perinatal care.
Dr Nicole Highet, Founder and Executive Director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), tells Essential Baby, "For expectant and new parents this can be a very uncertain time, and the emergence of COVID-19 can further increase already elevated levels of stress and anxiety within the perinatal population,"
According to Dr Highet, quality information and support is key.
"COPE continues to provide expectant and new parents with the latest updated information and advice as well as ongoing support and reassurance throughout their pregnancy and first year of parenthood."
Screening also remains paramount in order to identify "those at risk and those likely to be experiencing anxiety and depression."
"COPE is committed to addressing the potential impacts of social isolation, magnified by the current need for self-isolation," Dr Highet adds, noting that COPE has teamed up with Mama Tribe to connect mums online. You can join here.
According to Mama Tribe co-founder, Nikki McCahon, they have witnessed "some really beautiful displays of solidarity and support" in Mama Tribe groups.
"From mums dropping off supplies to other women who are in isolation or haven't been able to access products they need, women creating online book clubs and pen pal groups, sharing community information and resources and just venting about how we're all feeling", she tells Essential Baby.
"It's really important to have a safe space to share how you're feeling, what obstacles or challenges you're facing and to see that you're not alone."
As well as Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups and online forums, other options for connection are becoming available as social distancing measures increase.
Mum, social worker and postnatal doula Katie Parker has set up three free weekly mothers' groups for those who've missed out on a council-run mothers' group in her local area due to COVID-19. "I'm really concerned that new parents' groups are being cancelled, as connecting with others at this time is so important. I'm running these three free online sessions, then hopefully when things return to normal you can continue connecting with each other in person," she wrote on Instagram.
Ms Parker will look to expand her service to other mums in other areas, too.
Essential Baby's own 'Virtual Parents' Group' will take place weekly on Tuesdays from 12:00pm on our Facebook page, hosted by Deputy Editor and mum-of-two Heidi Krause.
Supplied: Heidi Krause
Gidget Foundation Australia CEO, Arabella Gibson, says visits to their websites are up over 50 per cent on the same period last year, as anxious expectant and new parents seek information and support during the pandemic.
"Expectant and new parents can feel a sense of isolation at the best of times," Ms Gibson tells Essential Baby, adding that the COVID-19 outbreak has heightened anxiety levels in a way that has not been seen before.
"Moving all of our support to telehealth means that we can utilise our pre-existing Start Talking telehealth service to help more parents in need, by offering free psychology support at a mutually suitable time from the safety of home.
"Never has there been a more important time for us all to come together and rally around those who need our care, kindness and compassion most. Isolating at home can exacerbate anxiety and the feeling of isolation that is common in new parents."
We're all doing our best
Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA's) National Helpline is also busier than ever, having moved their operations off-site last week. PANDA CEO Julia Borninkhof tells Essential Baby that while their usual "PANDA callers", those with symptoms of anxiety and depression are still there, the Helpline is also receiving calls from people who would generally be travelling OK.
"Callers are experiencing distress as a result of family being displaced or being stood down, more financial stress and complexity within intimate partner relationships," Ms Borninkhof says. "We're also just expecting families smooshed together to be able to function OK. With partners working from home it means the usual internet channels are blocked for parents to access support too."
Ms Borninkhof says she's also heard stories from distressed single mums who've had to leave younger children at home to go to the shops to get food, formula or nappies . "They're guilt-ridden, incredibly distressed and traumatised but don't want to put their kids at risk," she says, adding that many have rushed out only to be caught up in terrible queues.
"They're just trying to do the best they can and keep their family safe. We don't have a good rule book at the moment. We're all making it up, which is mothering in general, but add to it a coronavirus and we're really making it up."
Ms Borninkhof says parents are also feeling like the joy of childbirth or pregnancy has been "whipped away from them" and there's a sense of grief associated with that. "That's very normal," she says. "There's a sense of real upset for many."
Put your emotional and physical health first
In a video address last week, Dr Vijay Roach, President of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), said that while there has necessarily, and appropriately, been an emphasis on the physical implications of the COVID-19 infection on the health of the community, "we must remain aware that pregnancy and parenting are associated with anxiety and depression and that the current environment will only exacerbate this risk for women, their partners and families.
"Screening, diagnosis and management of perinatal anxiety and depression, substance misuse and domestic violence must continue and services must be supported," Dr Roach said.
He also advised women to take the opportunity to rest, eat well and maintain interests and hobbies, where possible. "Your baby has the best protection it will ever have i.e. you, so caring for yourself, your emotional and physical health, is what is most important"
PANDA's National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline 1300 726 306
Monday – Friday, 9am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT
Has your mothers' group been cancelled? Take a look at some other options here
For 24 hour support call Lifeline on 13 11 14