At the best of times, the transition to motherhood is a vulnerable chapter, but during a global pandemic those challenges are significantly amplified, and recent studies show that what we are facing now is a real maternal mental health crisis. It’s not just new mothers that have been affected, all mothers need support in the wake of the stress, anxiety, isolation and burnout brought about by Covid.
At Nourish, we are passionate about bringing mums together, empowering them with accessible nurturing tools that can make all the difference, especially when so many of our usual means of support are still unavailable to us.
If you’re a mother and have found this a deeply challenging time, you are not alone. Even as lockdown eases, there is still so much to adjust to and to process. We hope that in opening up a conversation about the effects of Covid, this will help you make sense of how you might be feeling now. It has been a tough time, it is still a tough time and the normal response is to struggle. Nourish is here to support you.
A 2020 study surveying the psychological and social experiences of women with babies between birth and 12 weeks of age during the first UK lockdown showed that 43% of new mothers met the criteria for clinically relevant depression and 61% met the criteria for anxiety during the first UK lockdown. Usual rates for both anxiety and depression in the UK in the postnatal period are around 15%, this study shows the true extent of the current mental health crisis and that more support for mothers is needed. Social distancing was cited by respondents as the main contributing factor to influencing feelings of anxiety and depression. Another survey of UK expectant mothers, new parents and parents of toddlers from lockdown in 2020 revealed that 70% of respondents felt their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby has been impacted by Covid and only a third said they felt confident that they could access the mental health support they might need.
How the pandemic has affected mothers:
There has been a significant impact of covid on mothers in pregnancy, attending appointments, receiving significant news without support and giving birth alone, the loss and grief of partners missing out on the opportunities to share those peak moments too, and reduced social support from family and friends due to lockdown restrictions. For many mothers the birth experience itself was changed vastly due to covid precautions. Social distancing and the required PPE has a significant impact on the birth experience, impacting on communication and a feeling of being held and supported. This was especially difficult for people for whom English is not their first language, the trauma being exacerbated by labouring without birthing partners.
Covid has disrupted the transition to becoming a mother and the sensitive postnatal period of those adding to their family. This is a vulnerable time for mothers without the additional flux, uncertainty and genuine threat to health and safety posed by a global pandemic. Many mothers faced reduced in person access to health services including support from health visitors, breastfeeding support and baby weigh in clinics, not to mention the plethora of other life-giving classes and meet ups that often form the back bone of social support in those early months. Mothers have felt cheated of those opportunities, some feeling like covid has wasted their precious maternity leave. There is a valid sense of grief for time lost, with many family members still yet to meet and bond with pandemic babies. A parliament report on parental mental health during the pandemic acknowledges the significant financial pressures and job insecurity which have further fuelled anxiety and depression. Mothers have had to reconsider parental leave in the aftermath of partners being furloughed or losing their jobs altogether and many no longer have jobs to return to at the end of their maternity leave.
The pandemic has been tough on mothers supporting older infants and school age children too. Mothers have had to shoulder the burden of home schooling coupled with the responsibility of looking after younger children, work demands, and the pressure of tending to their children’s emotional and mental health. The third lockdown with the challenge of winter and these competing demands was an impossible chapter for so many mothers leading to a real risk of burnout. It is important to note that the impact of covid may linger well beyond the lifting of restrictions and it will take some time for mothers to heal and restore. You will find many soothing tools to overcome burnout on the Nourish app including mindfulness and breathing practices, yoga nidra, mantras and soothing guided yoga sequences. There is also the Nourish Facebook community providing a sense of belonging and social support.
A survey we conducted at Nourish helped us understand the true impact of covid on maternal mental health. This response by Shelley, mama of three, from Oxfordshire, expresses what so many mothers have been feeling:
“At first, it was ok. I didn't mind the enforced break for a few weeks as I am not someone who goes shopping or out to restaurants a lot and my life was ridiculously busy! But that changed quite rapidly. When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I had to make a conscious decision to remain in the world, every single day. Although I still struggle with suicidal ideation, I haven't had to make that kind of very conscious choice for some years. This last 12 months has changed that significantly and I am having to draw on my repertoire of daily survival techniques more and more. One of those things is that I absolutely need to be able to be out walking every day - across the fields and in the woods - so when they started closing the local nature reserve car parks and restricting movement for essential journeys only it affected me very badly”.
Despite the huge squeeze and depletion of this chapter, there have been some beautiful silver linings too and opportunities to create lasting positive change. Home learning may have brought pressure but it also helped us get to know our children better, their interests, strengths and challenges. There are many parents whose usual work commutes or travel mean that they don’t see their children during the week at all. Lockdown created a real opportunity to spend time together, opening eyes to the realities of parental burden, greater appreciation and understanding, and the possibility of redistributing the invisible load of parenting. We know first-hand that there is also greater malleability in work practices, allowing us now to shape the way we work, achieving better, healthier balance even as lockdown eases. For many people lockdown has afforded an opportunity to take stock, to slow down and clarify our values and there has been lots of time to make precious memories together. Vicky, mum of Athena, from Kingston Upon Thames sums it up beautifully:
“It was positive. I've had more quality time with my daughter and husband and despite the worries about her development and the sadness about all the activities and experiences we missed out on, I am grateful that our bonds became stronger”.
What we’re trying to achieve at Nourish:
When Nourish was born, long before Covid, our mission was to support mums, to boost maternal wellbeing and help mums enjoy their motherhood journey. In the light of our recent collective experience we are passionate about our role in nurturing mums to boost mental health, to prevent burnout, with the aim of reducing the burden on the NHS. There is a real caring community here at Nourish, providing support and validation despite the restrictions we are still facing and we hope the healing resources and practical tips make nourishment more accessible for mothers, right when we need it the most.
This has been a deeply challenging chapter for mothers and as lockdown eases, we are faced with another period of adjustment. The healing process begins when we acknowledge our experiences and validate our emotional responses. At Nourish we want to provide real support and understanding, so we invite you to join this healing conversation, encouraging you to compassionately tend to your own health and be part of this community that genuinely cares for each other.
We invite you to pause and reflect with us. What have been the challenges presented by the pandemic for you? What have you weathered, knowing that someone else’s struggle doesn’t negate your own. How have you grown? Can you identify some blessings in this chapter too? If you want to share your experiences, we’d love to hear. We’re walking the path with you.
About the author
Suzy is a mother of two, an author, Chartered Psychologist and Coach. She specialises in self-care, helping people manage their stress, emotions, and energetic bank balance. It was her life experience of motherhood colliding with the terminal illness of her father that sparked her passion for self-care which she now teaches to her clients, young and old, to cope during periods of stress, loss and change and to boost their resilience in the face of future challenges.
Suzy is on the editorial board for Motherdom Magazine, the Psychology Expert for wellbeing brand Neom Organics and is a founding member of the ‘Nourish’ app. She figure-skated her way through her childhood, growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and now makes her home in the hills of Hertfordshire, UK.
Her first book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’ published by Aster came out in 2017, 'Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness & Self-Care for Children and Parents' and 'The Little Book of Self-Care’ came out in 2019. ‘Self-Care for Tough Times’ and her first children’s book ‘This Book Will (Help) Make You Happy’ by Wren & Rook are both hot off the press.
You can find lots of amazing content from Suzy, accessible in your pocket, anytime, anywhere, via the Nourish App. Download for free!
Join Suzy’s Wellbeing Community at:
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/02/lockdown-new-mothers-mental-health-depression-anxiety-covid-19/  https://tfn.scot/news/survey-reveals-impact-of-covid-on-new-parents  https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmpetitions/526/52608.htm