‘A huge chunk of my life is just gone’: Covid stress adds to mental health pain for new mums

The mental health of new mums seems to be slipping through the Covid cracks. Credit: Pexels.
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The threat has eased, but partners and family are still being frozen out when it comes to caring for new mums and babies. In this second of a two-part series on maternity care, Hannah Fortune looks at the impact on mental health.

After seeking help from a medical professional for symptoms of depression, new mum Naomi Swan was left feeling more alone than ever.

“I just feel like a huge chunk of my life is just gone, and I can’t really remember anything quite significant about it, and that’s a bit of a lonely and isolating feeling,” she said

The first-time mum unexpectedly fell pregnant during the height of Melbourne’s stage four lockdowns and said restrictions caused excessive levels of stress for herself and her partner.

“I’ve seen my GP and I have a diagnosis, but I don’t really have much of a path forward as to how to deal with it. I’ve been told that I just have to get through it.”

Ms Swan is among the one in five women in Australia who experience postnatal depression.

Once you say, no, actually I’m not okay, there wasn’t anything to really rectify that.

Flinders University PhD health science researcher Abel Fekadu Dadi said the heightened level of stress because of the Covid-19 pandemic increased women’s chances of developing perinatal depression.

“Maternal health services are becoming compromised as efforts are focused on the coronavirus fight,” he said.

One-fifth of Australian women aren’t receiving the correct mental health scanning pre- and post-birth, according to research from Queensland and Newcastle University.

The report showed that barriers such as lack of time, potential over-diagnosis and new mothers not engaging in treatment are part of the problem.

“Women have regular contact with the health system both before and after giving birth. It is too important to be missed,” researchers said.

'A huge chunk of my life is just gone': Covid stress adds to mental health pain for new mums
Jenna Lang with newborn Bronte. Picture: Kate Deagan Photography

During her first hospital telehealth appointment, expectant mum Jenna Lang was told that she would be mailed a tool for an anxiety and depression self-screening.

“I got it in the mail and there was no information about what to do with it, there was no return envelope, and I never got asked for it,” she said.

Had she not set up a mental health plan with her existing GP, Ms Lang said the hospital never would have known she was struggling with anxiety and depression.

Changes to the way maternity care was delivered due to the pandemic were disruptive and left new parents feeling dissatisfied, found by a Curtin University study performed early last year.

Ms Lang said there wasn’t enough support offered in the hospital and opted to leave 36 hours after her daughter was born so she and her husband could be together as a family.

The midwives were there, but they didn’t really help a lot with the care of the baby.

“Usually, if you leave early, you get a visit once a day for a few days, we got one visit the next day and after that, it was a phone call,” she said.

Monash midwifery student Sasha White said that although visitor restrictions in the postnatal ward put a lot of pressure on new mums, “there were also many benefits”.

“Women have time to actually hold and bond with their babies without the stress of a million family members coming in and wanting to hold the baby.”

“Every aspect of our lives was different, and we did what we could in the safest possible way.”

“A hospital, in particular, is the last place that is going to take chances or be slack about policies when it comes to the health of thousands of people,” she said.

Ms White said midwife-to-patient ratios were having a negative effect.

Currently, a single midwife is expected to care for four mothers as well as their four or more newborns.

I think they do their best with the situation but an increase in staffing to allow for less patients per midwife would significantly benefit women’s experiences and outcomes.

Strict lockdowns and restrictions may have ended, but new parents are still feeling the weight of the new Covid normal.

“People can go to the pub and do what they want now, and I still can’t have my partner with me at all appointments,” Ms Swan said.