“Virtual support is key,” said Cara Koslow, a licensed professional counselor who has a practice in Blakely.
Social support is crucial to new moms after giving birth. During the coronavirus pandemic, however, it can be challenging to connect with other new parents or get the support they were hoping for from family and friends.
In the age of social distancing, new parents may find themselves even more vulnerable to feeling isolated, thus putting themselves at greater risk of postpartum depression. According to the American Psychological Association, up to one in seven women experiences PPD. Because one of the risk factors of this condition is social isolation, it’s likely more women may be experiencing PPD as the country navigates the worst pandemic in a century.
If you are a new mom looking for support during those first few exhausting months after giving birth, here are some suggestions.
Grow Your Village Virtually
As the old adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Even now when social distancing has forced the village to shelter in place, you can still find and call on a network of people for virtual support.
“Virtual support is key,” said Cara Koslow, a licensed professional counselor who has a practice in Blakely. “With social distancing there’s not many other ways to connect.”
Fortunately there are a lot of options to keep you connected to a support system. Daily check-ins with the people you trust the most via phone call or text can help, and FaceTime, Zoom, and Houseparty are other technological alternatives if you’re looking for something a little more personal.
Beth Kushner-Giovenco, a registered nurse and lactation consultant for Lehigh Valley Health Network, suggests not limiting your virtual village to only a few people. “Create a circle of daily support that becomes your village,” she said. “Include healthcare providers to ask clinical questions, experienced moms to ask questions to, good friends who can make you laugh, spiritual support if you believe, and family members that can give you unconditional love.”
Consider an Online Support Group
Part of finding your support system can include joining a virtual support group, and there are several across the state that are specifically designed for new parents.
Postpartum Support Center, LLC, a perinatal therapy group based out of Rosemont, has put together two weekly online Zoom support groups. One is geared toward parenting toddlers during a pandemic while the other offers help to mothers who have recently given birth. Both groups meet on Sundays. For more information, you can visit www.postpartumstress.com or email PPSCgroups@gmail.com.
Many hospitals are not currently offering in-person support groups, Kushner-Giovenco said, but Lehigh Valley Health Network does have two social media support groups. There, she said, new moms can connect with an online, local community of other new moms that are facilitated by healthcare professionals. “We truly try to let it be mom to mom support because we want new moms to call us with big concerns, but they can at least still communicate with each other!”
Of course, it can take some trial and error to find a group that’s a good fit.
“Find a group online that you connect with,” Kushner-Giovenco said. “You should look for discussion groups and communities of moms that feel positive and engaging. If you don’t find that, leave that group and keep looking. Finding the right fit is crucial online. Some groups can do more damage than good if it’s not the right fit.”
If you’re unsure about where to start, ask your healthcare provider if they can provide any information about virtual groups offered through their network.
Make Use of Telehealth Services
Since Gov. Tom Wolf issued an emergency declaration due to COVID-19 on March 6, the Office of Medical Assistance Programs (OMAP) has encouraged people to seek out telehealth options and stay out of doctor’s offices when possible.
With this encouragement, many insurance providers in the state are covering more telehealth services than they were before the coronavirus crisis. Some insurance companies are even waiving copays on telehealth services during this time period.
The additional coverage means that your insurance plan may be more likely to cover a telehealth counseling session or a check-in with your doctor should you have symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety, or another postpartum health issue. Many therapists are doing telehealth through at least mid-June, Koslow said. Gov. Wolf has approved psychologists, social workers and family therapists to offer telehealth.
Lactation consultants are also available through telehealth services to offer feeding support.
Say Yes to Any Offer of Help or Connection
Although coronavirus may have changed the social landscape, people still generally want to help. If someone offers to drop off a meal or baby supplies, there’s no shame in accepting. According to the CDC, there’s currently no evidence that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted by food.
Plan a Window Visit
If you find yourself grieving not being able to share your new baby with your loved ones as planned, here’s a creative and safe idea from a mom in Media. She told Keystone that after having her son, her family visited but stayed outside their home as she and her partner showed their new baby off through the window.
It’s not a perfect solution by any means, Koslow said, but “at least they can share the baby in some way. Given the situation it’s better than not being able to share the baby at all.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Even if we weren’t living in a global pandemic, new parenthood can be quite overwhelming. With the current heavy news cycle and social distancing guidelines in place, new parents are even more at risk for adverse effects from social isolation, including depression and anxiety.
“Social isolation is significantly affecting moms who have just had babies,” Koslow said. “On top of symptoms of postpartum depression, they don’t want to raise their babies in a world like this. Plus, it’s harder for new moms to ask for help with the lack of traditional supports.”
Giovenco-Kushner agreed and urged parents to get help if needed. “Depression and anxiety are common after a baby. Speak with your provider sooner than later. Your feelings matter.”