​Rise of postnatal depression during COVID-19

“Becoming a mother is a transition that in normal times already presents a developmental challenge in itself, as caring for a newborn requires much physical and emotional effort. Coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it can easily give rise to postnatal depression and anxiety,” shares Associate Professor Helen Chen Yu, Head and Senior Consultant from the Department of Psychological Medicine at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

How a mother can help herself

1. Do not neglect your own emotional state

Being mindful of your own internal emotional state is important, and so is me-time and taking time out for self-care. Too busy to take a long break? Just a short walk outdoors or soothing shower can lift the spirits, as can taking just three deep, slow calming breaths to help soothe nerves when feeling frazzled.

Also, getting help for depression and anxiety sooner than later is important if a mummy recognises that her emotions are weighing her down, and she feels hopeless about the future.

A quick and easy self-check is to ask yourself if you have been feeling low in mood and/or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities for most of the past two weeks. It would be helpful to speak with your family doctor or obstetrician to see if further assessment is needed,” advises Assoc Prof Helen Chen.

2. Do not hesitate to ask for help

Professional help that a new mother can turn to are:

  • www.mindline.sg: Developed by the Ministry of Health (MOH), this national online resource provides guidance on how to manage difficult emotions

  • Reach out to the KKH Women’s Mental Wellness Service and get help for postnatal depression by:

  • Consult your family doctor or visit the polyclinic for further advice

But as awful as how the COVID-19 pandemic is, this shall pass in time. “So mothers must be encouraged and supported to see beyond these times as they care for their babies – and to reach out to loved ones for support and care,” adds Assoc Prof Helen Chen.

How loved ones can support a new mother

1. Fathers can be supportive by:

  • Participating in baby care responsibilities

  • Being mindful of their own psychological health needs as they too can be stressed

2. Grandparents can be supportive and encouraging, holding back on nagging and critical comments that can discourage a new mother – this is not easy, as grandparents often do so out of love and anxiety for the newborn, so they need to do so with wisdom and calm

3. Employers and colleagues should support pregnant women and the new mother as she adjusts to juggling work and motherhood especially in these extraordinary times of COVID-19

Common issues mothers face during COVID-19

In the past year, mothers cared for at KKH have shared concerns about:

  1. Effects on family income (when a spouse lost his/her job)

  2. Difficulties with working from home and juggling needs of the family

  3. Difficulty getting confinement help because of restrictions of nannies coming from across the Causeway

  4. Worries of getting infected, and what it means to their baby (e.g. some women have become so anxious that they have resorted to wearing gloves or masks even at home when attending to their baby)

  5. A seemingly never-ending confinement as fears about infection have left some mothers being restricted to staying home for safety

  6. Longer term burdens that weigh down on new mothers, especially with the prevailing infections. This is something that is particularly impactful for new mothers as raising a child requires the parents to have a hopeful and positive outlook about the future when their children can grow up healthy and well

Other unique challenges that parents face during COVID-19

  • Parents have to learn to strike a balance between keeping their environment clean and safe, and not being too fastidious and obsessed about cleanliness that it prevents their little one from experiencing the world

  • For parents who put their newborn in infant care while they work, spending quality time with their child in the evening becomes even more important. This is because their baby would have been cared for by masked-up infant care staff for most of the day, and time with their parents becomes the only time when their baby sees facial expressions and develop a better understanding of emotions

  • In addition, masking-up also muffles voices, and babies thrive on hearing voices. “What parents can do is to start the day talking to their baby freely without a mask and at night before bedtime, if it is difficult to do so during the day when both are busy at work. The habit of talking to your baby is a wonderful one to nurture, as neuronal connections of a young child’s brain continue to grow exponentially in the early years,” shares Assoc Prof Helen Chen.

Ref: K21

Other mental wellness articles you may be interested in:

Self-Care Tips for New Mothers

Suffering from Postnatal Depression? This Programme Can Help

Anxiety and Depression: When to Seek Help

Caregiver Tips: How to Care for a Loved One with Anxiety or Depression

Battling Anxiety and Depression: Treatment and Tips to Manage It