As COVID-19 takes over most aspects of our lives, many of us are putting milestones like weddings and birthday parties on hold. But if you’re pregnant, the baby is coming and you can’t press pause. How can new parents minimize stress and find support in the middle of a pandemic? You might have to change your birth plan based on new hospital policies ; or maybe you’re seeking remote family support when you’re social distancing. KCRW's Bodies team spoke with a handful of doulas and birth workers to gather tips for expecting parents who are preparing for birth and postpartum.
How to Keep Calm in the Birthing Room
Helena Vissing, a perinatal psychologist said that “the uncertainty of being a new parent is already like fumbling in the dark.” That’s why she and others we spoke with recommend slowing down and staying inside the birth bubble. Only take in the information you need; and that’s the stuff that’s going to empower you during delivery. Kim Summer Zuleger, a birth and postpartum doula based in Santa Barbara, recommends turning off social media and telling hospital staff not to discuss the virus if it’s not immediately necessary. “We can try to just create this birth bubble and sort of not even think about what's happening [elsewhere],” she said.
While social media isn’t recommended in the delivery room, understanding what to expect during labor could ease stress for expecting parents; for instance, study details about contractions, dilation and delivering the placenta. This is something a doula would normally assist; they prepare parents for what’s to come, they educate and advocate during the delivery. “You need to know what childbirth is, you need to know what's going to happen to your body, you need to know how to handle it, and you need to know how to cope with it,” said Efe Osaren , a Brooklyn based doula and student midwife. In the past, her clients didn’t have to learn all the information since Efe was there to support them. Now, during the pandemic, she wants them to enter the hospital armed with even more knowledge since she can no longer accompany them physically.
Kim Borchert , an Austin-based doula, chats virtually with her clients as they get ready to go to the hospital. She asks them to bring an iPad or laptop to the hospital and “put it on the table so we can really get a wide view of the room and see what's happening.”
Some expecting parents are weighing whether they should still give birth in the hospital at all or whether they should induce labor and try to have their babies earlier before the virus continues to spread and overwhelm hospitals. Tara Brooke , director of Doula Training International, warns that expecting parents should avoid making decisions out of fear.
Borchert recommends using the acronym BRAIN (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Intuition, Nothing) to assess the situation. In trying to make a call about something important, ask yourself:
- What are the benefits of this action?
- What are the risks associated with it?
- What are all of my options?
- What is my gut telling me?
- And what if I do nothing?
If you need help thinking through all of your options, and how to prepare, ShiShi Rose says lots of doulas, including herself, offer free and sliding scale services. She says if you’re expecting, dig deep into what you want your birth plan to look like. But also: be open to the fact that plans change.
Preparing for Postpartum
Many of the birth professionals we spoke with recommend that new parents take time to prioritize their mental health even if it means letting other things slide. Take time to go for walks, get enough sleep, feed yourself and meditate. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo helped set up a mental health hotline. Other mental health resources include free guided meditations from UCLA as well as telehealth therapists; some insurance companies are waiving copays for this.
TaKeesha White, who gave birth to twins on March 18, says one way parents can stay mentally healthy is by voicing any negative feelings as soon as they have them. “If you were thirsty, or you had to pee or you needed help with something, you would speak up, do the same now with your feelings and your thoughts. Speak up now and let us let it out because it is compounded with what's happening in the world.”
There are things partners can do to ease the postpartum experience for their significant others. For instance, keep snacks nearby the new parent or print out some helpful PDFs with information about breastfeeding positions or anything else that needs extra attention. And even though you can no longer go over to your friend’s house to cook, you can still support new parents by leaving meals on their doorstep or giving them gift cards or coupons.
Isolation could also increase the risk of PMADS, or Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. If you’re concerned about this, there are virtual resources available; for example, the Motherhood Center in New York is offering virtual classes, counseling and consultation to people experiencing PMADS.
Above all, Zuleger wants new parents to continue to value their birth experience. “I feel like we've sort of dropped the bar right now where instead of saying, oh, we're going to have a beautiful empowering birth ,” now it’s “ how can we mitigate trauma? ” Like that's where our bar is at right now” But, she insists, you still can have a beautiful birth experience with the right attitude and preparation.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
Virtual classes for new and expecting parents:
- Carriage House Birth
- Evidence Based Birth (free)
- Webinar from reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Pooja Lakshmin (free)
- PopSugar’s Fit Pregnancy Channel (free)
- Online breastfeeding support group from Soulfood For Your Baby (free)
- The Center for Men’s Excellence (for fathers)
Mental health resources
- Evidence Based Birth relaxation session
- Postpartum Support International
- Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance
- Maternal Mental Health Now web based app for stress reduction
- |OM|girl Alli online mindfulness classes (free)
- Guided meditations from UCLA (free)
- The Motherhood Center
Finding a Doula + Free and sliding scale resources
- DONA international doula directory
- National Black Doulas Association doula directory:
- Ancient Song Doula Services
- Virtual Doula Directory
- Affordable meal services in the Los Angeles area
- Doula Training International: Virtual Doula Mini Courses
Pregnancy specific government sites
Professional Organizations on Pregnancy and COVID-19
- Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) | @SOGCorg
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) | @ACOG
Read the full transcript here.