All over the world, people are scrambling to adapt to the constantly changing state of affairs that affects huge swaths of our everyday lives — from work and school to groceries and good times.
If you’re a new mom, the confusion everyone else is feeling is compounded for you by the huge life changes, sleeplessness, hormones, and unknowns that go along with having a tiny new human. And for women who are also experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD, limited access to resources in the outside world means many of the recommended coping tactics and therapies may not be readily available.
Although none of this is probably what you imagined for the weeks and months after bringing home your newborn, you’ve got this. Even though it might feel like it now more than ever, you are not alone. And if you feel like you are, please reach out and tell someone how you’re honestly feeling. Whether that’s your partner, a family member, a best friend, your OB/GYN, a therapist, even a hotline – talk to someone who can offer support, an ear, or additional help if you need it. There’s no reason to go through any of this alone.
We’re here to help. Here are some thoughts and information to help navigate the unique day-to-day realities new moms are facing right now.
If there is one group that is not great at routines even under normal circumstances, it’s newborns.Even though everyone is talking about sticking to routines now that people are working and schooling at home, your baby will not get the memo. New motherhood makes us vulnerable because there is no routine anyway, much less now. And even if there was a routine, it includes a lot of tough elements (e.g. not sleeping at night, changing diapers over and over).
Instead of a neat hour-by-hour agenda stuck to the fridge, think of the day more as “in the morning,” “after lunch,” and “before bed” to allow for the flexibility and grace that will make this more manageable.
Accept a schedule that isn’t set in stone, but still includes trying to do certain base things. Always get dressed. Always get outside, even if it’s just the front porch or a walk around the block. Anchor the day in meals. Those are the things that add to a sense of normalcy and control over your time. If you can, aim for a mix of social, personal, and self-care tasks amidst the “have-to’s”, like a little bit of stretching or exercise, a hobby you look forward to, a phone call with friends, and little short-term pleasures that provide a burst of enjoyment.
Consider social (media) distancing
The ambiguity of a situation that’s changing daily creates anxiety, even for people who aren’t anxious. For people with anxiety, this can all feel debilitating (more on that here.)
Immersing yourself in social media can make even the calmest person feel really overwhelmed right now, especially in the wee hours of the night during a breastfeeding session. It heightens that sense of uncertainty and feeds anxiety in a way that’s can be hard to notice right away. Social media centers on rapid-fire reaction and information, and most of it is not verified. You’re also exposing yourself to everyone else’s worries, whether they’re grounded in fact or not.
Now is a good time to consider setting limits to how much time you’re spending on social media, or at the very least, limiting what groups or people you’re interacting with. Opt for moderated Facebook groups that create support or action, not panic and reaction. Snooze the people producing hourly doomsday posts and instead fill your feed with friends and family who are keeping things silly, positive, and light. Log on for an hour, then check in with yourself. Do you feel better or worse? Connected or overwhelmed? Find that balance.
The same goes for the news media – give yourself enough time to get an update, and then switch to another activity. With a 24-hour news cycle, it’s possible to start reading and get sucked in for hours. One way to get only the info you need is to skip the networks and go straight to the sources for accurate, updated info like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and your state and county departments of health.
Feeling the isolation
Being stuck in the house with a new baby is hard, especially for people who are used to going to work, hosting play dates, or being active in the community. While social isolation is a major risk factor for depression, it’s also important to be smart about how you connect with others. Sitting around and talking about the virus is a bad idea; playing a board game or picking out paint colors for your sister’s living room are much better ideas.
This is one area where technology can be a helpful way to stay connected to the communities you already have or becoming a part of new ones. One upside to this situation is how many yoga studios, gyms, and cultural institutions are streaming live workouts, classes, and tours, many of them for free. It might even be more possible to practice yoga with your regular studio now than before baby arrived because you don’t have to drive there or arrange for childcare!
On a personal level, identify positive supporters in your life and figure out how to stay connected with them face-to-face through Facebook video, FaceTime, or Skype. Chances are they’ll love the chance to see you and your new baby! For you, seeing familiar, smiling faces is the next best thing to getting together in person (and it’s perfectly acceptable to wear whatever you want).
Talking to kids
If you have older kids at home, by now you’ve probably redefined what normal looks like at your house and spent some time explaining what’s going on. Many parents struggle with how much detail to share with their kids, who may benefit from more or less info depending on their age and personality. A good approach is to ask what they know and then guide the discussion so you’re not giving them more info than they need. It’s also wise to limit kids’ exposure to news media, too. Info aside, now is an especially good time to model good coping habits and flexibility, especially when it comes to changing routines for kids. Most of all, please be patient and forgiving with yourself and with your parenting right now.
Self-care at home
This is a lot, mama. It really is. Even though you’re looking after your family, worrying about older parents, and checking in on friends, please take the time to care for you. The more you can nurture your own body and mind, the better able you’ll be able to tackle each day. Sign up for one of the yoga sessions we just talked about. Take a free, online guided meditation session offered by UCLA or through the app Headspace. Practice mindfulness. Take a bath. Take a nap when the baby naps. Have a cup of hot tea. Give yourself permission to let the dining room table accumulate all of the things. Dab on some essential oils. Dance it out. Right now, these are not luxuries – these are necessities.
Medication and therapy
If you’re currently taking medication to treat anxiety, depression, or a chronic condition, it’s important to keep taking them as your doctor directed. If you’d rather not go into the pharmacy for refills, many have drive-through pickup (where you can now get a few other drugstore essentials, too, like toothpaste or baby wipes). If your regular pharmacy doesn’t have drive-through, your doctor may be able to redirect your prescription to one that does. He or she may also be able to help you arrange to have your meds delivered by mail. If neither option is available, go to the pharmacy anyway and practice safe social distancing and handwashing. In many cases, not taking medication may pose a greater risk than contracting COVID-19.
If you are currently in therapy, ask your therapist about the option to conduct your sessions over the phone or computer, a practice called teletherapy. Many practices are now offering as many telemedicine appointments as possible. If you’re not currently in therapy, many facilities can also accept new patients through teletherapy. While it’s not as ideal as meeting someone in person, it’s much better than going without the treatment that may be needed to get through the coming weeks and months.
One thing that is for certain is that all of this will pass. For now, do what you can, let go of what you can’t, and be gentle with yourself.