Navigating life as a new parent during the coronavirus pandemic

Hundreds of babies are still being born in Australia each day, and new parents are having to adjust to life with a newborn as well as the unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From loved ones not being able to meet your baby and changed access to medical care, to feeling worried about what the future holds, it’s a uniquely challenging time to be a new parent.

Here we look at how new parents can navigate this tricky time and protect their mental health.

Absence of support networks

According to Mitzi Paderes, National Helpline and Programs Manager at PANDA, there’s been a 20% increase in the number of calls to PANDA’s perinatal anxiety and depression national helpline during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As well as there being a notable focus on feelings of grief and loss, at least half of the calls have been from parents with a child less than four-weeks-old,” she said.

“Usually, we tend to hear from parents with babies around the four-month mark, so this shift really speaks to the absence of the usual support networks due to COVID-19. Most notably, many new parents are unable to be with their extended family during this really important time in their lives, which is very hard.”

With their first child, Indiana, arriving in March as measures were being put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, Craig and Gemma Olde are one of the many couples who are having to deal with separation from their families.

“We were planning on visiting my mother and grandmother in Queensland three weeks after the birth,” said Gemma. “Obviously we had to cancel the trip, so they're missing out on meeting Indiana as a newborn. I know my mum is pretty upset, as are all our family."

You can read more about Craig and Gemma’s experience as new parents here.

It’s OK to not be OK – seeking support early

With the absence of hands-on help from loved ones, along with changes to how maternal health appointments and parent support groups are being run, not to mention possible financial and unemployment considerations – Paderes says it’s normal for new parents to feel overwhelmed.

“Right now, many new parents don’t have the usual support networks in place. This means the pressure on them is compounded. We’re finding that people are expressing a lot of sadness, loneliness and isolation, with some also showing symptoms of postnatal anxiety and depression.”

If you have any concern about postnatal anxiety or depression, Paderes says seeking support early on is critical. Even if you’re simply unsure whether how you’re feeling is common for new parents, it can still be incredibly helpful to talk to someone.

“Now more than ever, connect with other people – whether with a health professional, at peer level, or a close friend or family member – is invaluable. It’s such a strange, scary time, so feelings of worry, fear and anxiety are understandably amplified.”

Being kind to yourself

As well as seeking support early on, Paderes suggests maintaining some structure to your day is important, as is going easy on yourself.

Staying connected, eating well, trying to get enough sleep and making sure you take care of yourself on a daily basis are all key. Practicing mindfulness can help you manage emotions and find a sense of inner calm. And although staying well-informed is important, it’s a good idea to avoid spending too much time following the news or on social media.

Connecting with services online

Although it may feel unorthodox to have a video conference chat with your maternal health nurse, it pays to remain open to new ways of communication during this unusual time.

Other services for new parents that have shifted online during the COVID-19 pandemic include maternal healthcare check-ups, support groups (peer and health-professional led) and supported playgroups.

Call your local Maternal and Child Health service or council to find out what’s available in your area.

Useful resources

Everyone experiences parenthood differently. The way it can affect you depends on a range of factors, from your own physical, emotional and mental make-up, to external factors that might be having an impact.

If you feel like you are not coping well, contact your GP.

Get a better sense of how you’re feeling with our mental health checklists for mums and dads.

For general information and helpful advice about newborns visit the Raising Children Network website.

Pregnancy, Birth and Baby has a helpline available seven days a week (7am-midnight) over the phone or via video call. Call 1800 882 436 or arrange a video call.

For PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline call: 1300 726 306 (9am-7.30pm Mon – Fri (AEST/AEDT) or visit the PANDA website.

This content is proudly funded by one of Beyond Blue’s Major Partners, Future Generation Global Investment Company.

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