Pregnancy during a pandemic

When you pictured your pregnancy, you might have prepared yourself for giving up wine and unpasteurised cheese, you might have made a plan to handle the nausea and the exhaustion and hoped for the occasional pregnancy massage, but perhaps you didn’t think we would still be in the middle of a pandemic.  

Seeing your baby for the first time on an ultrasound is always breathtaking, but, for me, it just wasn’t quite the same going it alone. being there on my own.  It is a strange feeling lying there in awe of this perfectly formed, ‘jellybean’ bouncing around, hearing the heartbeat, mask to mask with only your doctor. 

If you're feeling this additional stress you are not alone. It's natural that you might be nervous of getting Covid, but the interesting thing is, so far many of the studies looking at women in pregnancy during this time, has shown the additional stress caused by Covid related restrictions and impacts poses a greater risk to your baby than Covid itself.

For example, as part of the ongoing COVID-19 and Perinatal Experience Study, initial data shows a disturbing level of anxiety, depression and stress caused by social isolation and changes in hospital protocols. 

When you are stressed a hormone called Cortisol is released. During a normal pregnancy your Cortisol naturally increases by two to four times because it helps the development of organs in the various systems of the baby, like the lungs and the nervous system. But the baby being exposed to significant stress has been linked to complications such as  low birth weight, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. However, the good news is you can help to control your stress levels. Here are some tips that might help:

Find Support: It’s really important that you build up a really good social support network. Make this happen in whatever way is possible right now, zooming with friends, taking part in webinars, meeting family for walks and reaching out and asking for help.

Switch off:
 Try to find time in your day for totally switching off. There are lots of great apps that might help you do this. I’m a Christian so I use ‘pray as you go’ for my daily dose of mindfulness. 

I’ve never had so many baths in my life, but the 3 a week with candles, some relaxing music and bubbles really does help. If you have other kids in the house just crank up the volume on your music, it's also good for your other children to know Mummy needs special time just for her.  

Eat Well: With nausea, cravings and aversions eating the right food can be challenging,  but trying your best to have a healthy diet will have an impact. Eat plenty of mood boosting foods like oily fish, oats, nuts and seeds and berries.

Get Rest: Sleep is really important, remember you are growing a tiny human, take the’ lie-on’ at the weekend, or have an extra hour in bed in place of the commute you no longer have to do. Pregnancy insomnia can make this hard, so try a lavender diffuser, herbal night time teas, a pregnancy pillow, no caffeine after 11am and switching off from all screens at least an hour before bed. 

Exercise: Get some exercise outdoors in the fresh air every day. I get it, you don’t feel like it, but some movement is better than no movement and you will always feel better afterwards. 

Practise Gratitude:; It's hard not to feel weighed down by the pandemic, try practising gratitude throughout the day for the little things, this has been proven to reduce stress and boost your mood, and remember there are actually some silver linings to covid restrictions.   

Take Advantage of Working from Home: At various points in the pregnancy you will be exhausted. Now your twenty minute tea break can be taken in bed, and a lunchtime mama nap can be the norm. 

Ditch the Fantasy;  You may have had a fantasy in your head as to what pregnancy was going to be like, or be comparing it to a previous experience. I remember how kind everyone was from excited strangers on buses or in shops asking me when I was due, or gladly accepting kind gestures as I waddled around. Many of these things, for now, might remain a fantasy. But on the plus side you will have no more strangers randomly touching your tummy or giving you unwanted parenting advice.  

There is No Need to Fake it:  If you're in the early stages of pregnancy there is no having to hide your ever increasing belly or hoping the sound of the taps in the bathroom will drown out your vomiting. There is no having to answer questions about why you're not drinking wine or going for your weekly sushi run. When you're feeling like a hot mess you don’t have to do a fake pregnancy glow, you can just let it all out. 

Stay Away from Dr.Google: You need to have COVID free time, away from any media, conversations or social media. Turn off push notifications on your phone or try many of the apps that help you limit your online consumption. Covid doomsday stories are not good for you or your baby, and the good news is that Ireland (where I’m from)  like many other countries, has seen very few pregnant mums getting Covid, and even fewer have become sick from the virus, and what's rarer still, is a newborn getting covid from their mother.  

You have been Given the Gift of Time: This new reality we find ourselves in might mean your husband and other children are at home more. You will never regret the extra family time you might have now. When the baby arrives you won’t have to manage lots of visitors when you haven't showered in two days, and for any hospital appointments the days of waiting around for hours are gone. 

Have a plan: A recent study published in the  journal Frontiers of Sociology found that one of the things that increased stress levels was confusion about what would happen in the hospital during labour. Make sure you get a really clear picture on the exact protocols in place in various scenarios. 

You might want to Consider a HomeBirth: You might not fancy giving birth in a mask, or maybe you don’t like that the time your husband can be with you might be limited. You might have some very real concerns about how labour, delivery and your stay in hospital might be different. 

Home births can be just as safe as hospitals for those with low risk pregnancies and where you receive professional care from a midwife during the labour. The other caveat is also that should complications arise that you are close to a maternity hospital. Interestingly a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal found: 
“Low risk women in primary care with planned home birth at the onset of labour had a lower rate of severe acute maternal morbidity, postpartum haemorrhage, and manual removal of placenta than those with a planned hospital birth.”

There are lots of resources to help you make the right choice for you. While the vast majority of babies are born in hospitals once you have the right plan in place and lots of support, home birth can be a safe alternative.  

So while being pregnant in 2021 might be one of the most challenging years for you, there is no doubt it is something you will be talking to the little one growing within you for years to come. You will have survived a pandemic, together. 

Remember, even in these sometimes dark days “where there is life there is hope”. 

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