Pregnancy is a joyous time in any woman’s life, but it can also be a stressful one. Being pregnant during a global pandemic takes that stress to the next level. You may be scared of contracting the virus or nervous about what to expect during delivery. Social-distancing requirements mean that some providers aren’t allowing partners at prenatal visits, which may add to your anxiety.
The good news is that things are looking up. Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, and some states are lifting restrictions. It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the coming months, but you can learn to manage your fears.
Here are four ways to reduce your stress about the virus while you are pregnant:
1. Arm yourself with information.
For the past year, misinformation has been spreading like wildfire. Uncertainty can be a major source of stress for many women. The best way to deal with that stress is to arm yourself with the facts.
According to birth injury lawyer Bob Goldwater, pregnant women are at elevated risk of serious complications from COVID-19. In one study, forty percent of pregnant women who became seriously ill with the virus developed high blood pressure. Half of those women ended up needing a C-section.
Unfortunately, there is limited information about the COVID-19 vaccine and how it affects pregnant and nursing mothers. One study of 131 women (84 of whom were pregnant) found that the vaccine was effective for pregnant mothers. And, of course, thousands of pregnant women have already received the vaccine without any major side effects. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that pregnant women should consider getting the vaccine. But, like anything related to pregnancy, you should speak with your doctor to decide what’s right for you.
Despite the risks, there is good news. Even if you do become infected, chances are good that your baby will be born healthy. It’s uncommon for babies born to mothers with COVID-19 to be infected themselves. Those who do test positive shortly after birth usually have mild symptoms and recover quickly or are asymptomatic. The risks of your baby contracting the virus from you after he or she is born are low. The CDC still recommends that infected mothers do skin-to-skin and breastfeed their newborns.
2. Set clear boundaries.
Now that vaccines are becoming available, many people are anxious to get together and celebrate. New babies have always been cause for celebration, but this impulse may be magnified after a year of social distancing. Your best friend may already be planning your baby shower. Your mother-in-law might have invited herself to come stay with you after the baby is born. You may even be having visions of overzealous family members barging into the delivery room!
The last thing you want to do is rain on everyone’s parade. But if the idea of a big baby shower makes you nervous, you have a right to speak up. And the time to set boundaries with your would-be visitors is not right after you’ve given birth.
When trying to walk back other people’s plans, it’s important to be kind but clear. Tell them what you want — and what you don’t want. Share your concerns and what is non-negotiable. If someone is determined to throw you a party, you have a right to ask that all attendees be vaccinated. (The same applies to those who want to come visit the new baby.) Your health and your baby’s health should be everyone’s top priority.
3. Create a contingency (birth) plan.
In the early days of the pandemic, there were heartbreaking accounts of women giving birth alone in hospitals. Midwives report that women’s anxiety about birthing in a hospital during COVID-19 led to a spike in home births. The good news is that hospitals have eased restrictions. Partners are no longer barred from the delivery room, but it’s still a good idea to make a plan.
When you arrive at the hospital to deliver, you and your birth partner will likely be screened prior to entry. At the very least, a staff member will ask you about your symptoms and take your temperature. Take extra care to avoid exposure in those final weeks of pregnancy.
Additionally, some hospitals are still limiting birthing women to one support person. This means that you may not be able to have your doula or another family member present. If you’re worried about not having your doula by your side, there are ways to work around this. Low-risk women can opt for a home birth where their support people won’t be restricted. If you want or need to deliver in a hospital, many doulas are now supporting birthing mothers over Zoom or FaceTime. Of course, restrictions are always changing, so check with your hospital in the weeks leading up to your guess date.
4. Use mindfulness or hypnobirthing techniques.
Sometimes, all the planning in the world isn’t enough to ease your anxiety. This is why developing a mindfulness practice can be so helpful during pregnancy. Mindfulness is all about being aware of the present moment. It can be as simple as taking five minutes to practice deep breathing and sit with whatever you’re feeling. Meditation or prenatal yoga can help you come to terms with your fears and the changes happening in your body.
Today, many hypnobirthing instructors are using mindfulness practices in conjunction with hypnosis. Hypnobirthing can be a terrific way to prepare for labor, but it can also help ease your mind throughout pregnancy. Hypnobirthing uses deep relaxation, visualization, and positive affirmations to dissolve women’s fears around childbirth. You can take a hypnobirthing class or learn techniques from a book and incorporate these into your routine.
To manage your stress around COVID-19, try a simple affirmation such as, “I am healthy. My baby is healthy.” Repeat this to yourself throughout the day, inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of six. It won’t feel natural at first, but eventually you’ll begin to feel more relaxed and in control.
Pregnancy is a beautiful time — one you’ll remember for the rest of your life — but it’s not always perfect. It’s completely natural to feel anxious or fearful (even under the best of circumstances). Gather the facts, make a plan, and just remember to breathe. If all else fails, talk to someone about your fears — whether that’s a friend or a therapist. Nine months can feel like a long time, but nothing lasts forever. Someday you’ll be telling your child what it was like being pregnant during a pandemic.