Coronavirus has had a serious effect on postpartum care, explains specialist

Written by Alice Broster and published by Forbes

It’s likely that over the last few months you’ll have had to adapt almost every aspect of your life because of Covid-19. For new families and parents-to-be, this has been especially uncertain. The pandemic has dramatically transformed giving birth and the postpartum period. Virtual care and video consultations have stepped up to replace face to face appointments to cut down on the people entering hospitals. A neonatologist explains how postpartum care has changed because of Covid-19 and, while virtual medicine has been good for this period, it will never replace the emotional support that new parents need in person.

Over the last three months, people have faced going to the hospital to give birth alone. Families haven’t been able to introduce their newborns to their loved ones because of Covid-19 and for doctors on the frontline, it’s been an incredibly stressful time trying to deliver a high standard of care while keeping patients safe. An increase in virtual medicine has meant patients have been able to access their doctors without leaving the house. However, it’s also meant some new parents have been left behind. “For the vast majority of new parents, they need hands-on help. You need a hug and you need someone who is going to be there when you’re emotional. Sadly, that’s not something you can totally get through a computer,” says Medical Director of Aeroflow Breastpumps and board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist Dr. Jessica Madden. 

With people entering hospitals alone to give birth and clinicians not being able to do at home check-ups Dr. Madden fears that some families have fallen through the net. The six week period after giving birth is key for the physical and mental health of both parents and babies. According to research conducted by Aeroflow Breastpumps, 90% of new mums believe educating parents about what to expect postpartum needs to be improved. Three out of four said they weren’t given enough guidance and 66% said they found the postpartum period more difficult than they thought it would be.

While some checks can be done over a video call, Dr. Madden highlighted that some services can’t adapt as effectively. “For the most part, lactation consultants can’t come into the room after birth to provide guidance and support. Breastfeeding clinics haven’t been open in the same way and that’s a massive loss,” says she says, “there’s an extra layer of fear right now for new parents. A lot of people aren’t bringing their babies to see pediatricians and women are scared to access postpartum care because they’re scared they’ll get Covid-19 from the doctor’s office.” 

Not being able to access care and support postpartum can have massive implications for new parents. In the U.S. an estimated 70% to 80% of women will experience the ‘baby blues’ after giving birth, with many experiencing more severe postpartum depression. The reported rate of clinical postpartum depression among new mothers is between 10% to 20%. “When you look at how life is for pregnant people right now there are so many more risk factors. People are isolated and there’s excess stress and fear. I don’t think we will really know the effects Covid-19 has had on postpartum depression and anxiety until we look back on it next year,” says Dr. Madden. “Unfortunately, in some cases, there hasn’t been an increase in emotional and mental support for mums. Someone needs to take the initiative to check in with mums far more frequently,” she says.

In the weeks after giving birth your body changes dramatically. Your hormone levels change, it’s normal to bleed or be in pain and you’ve got a new baby to look after. Not being able to see your doctor and ask questions because of the pandemic can make parenthood during this time completely overwhelming. “Everyone always asks about the baby and when you’re chatting with your in-laws it’s likely they’ll ask how the baby is and if it’s sleeping but this is when we really need to check on the mum too,” says Dr. Madden.

While virtual medical care has become the norm during Covid-19, there are certain services that only a doctor or specialist can fulfill. Providing new parents with a support network, especially during the pandemic, will be key to both their health and the health of their baby. It’s likely that the lasting effects of Covid-19 on postpartum care won’t be clear until the pandemic ends.

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