Help is there if you need it.

If you are a woman who is pregnant at the moment, you are likely to be feeling nervous and anxious about the health and wellbeing of you and your unborn baby.

Pregnant women and new parents are already vulnerable to anxiety and depression, and the current COVID-19 situation has made things even more stressful as women and their families try to navigate their way through these unprecedented times.

In addition to anxiety around whether or not a support person will be with them throughout labour and birth, and the likelihood family support will be limited, women are also fearful about the health and safety of their unborn baby.

Advice from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides the following reassurance:

  1. There is no evidence pregnant women are at increased risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 or having a miscarriage;
  2. While there have been reports that suggest a small risk of the virus passing from the mother to the baby, it is rare for this to happen in the womb or during birth;
  3. In the small number of babies who have been infected, they have remained largely well and have not needed additional care; and
  4. Women should remain reassured there is currently no evidence COVID-19 will harm your baby or cause abnormalities.

Despite this information and reassurance, the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre in Canberra reported a 40 per cent increase in new clients over the December quarter.

The centre is a Canberra-based organisation offering phone, email and face-to-face counselling and support groups for pregnant women and new parents.

I spoke to its chief executive, Yvonne Luxford, who told me in addition to the 40 per cent increase in new clients, they had also delivered 57 per cent more telephone counselling sessions; many twice as long as regular sessions, with concerns related to COVID-19 as key topics of conversation.

In response to the increased demand for their services, the centre is offering fortnightly Facebook Live sessions covering a range of topics to help people understand their emotions at this time. They are also offering practical tips and strategies to manage these emotions. While numbers are somewhat limited for group sessions, they are still being offered to those who need and would benefit from them. Any new or pregnant mother can still make calls to counsellors at any time.

Yvonne said it is incredibly important for women to understand what they are feeling – it is not uncommon and it is important to seek help by calling the service.

The need for adequate support for pregnant and new mothers is as vital as ever. While demand slowed a little in May and June, it has picked up again and the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre expects it to continue to grow for many months to come.

Women can ease their anxiety by trying some of the following strategies:

  1. Turn off social media;
  2. Speak to friends and family;
  3. Exercise. If you can get out for a short walk each day, do so;
  4. Know the facts and be sure to get all information from reputable sources; and
  5. Practise mindfulness techniques and meditation to help calm and relax your mind.

Yvonne urges anyone who is feeling overwhelmed and finding their anxiety is not improving to speak to their health provider or call the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre on 02 6288 1936 – or contact your relevant state service. Often, a phone call will help you feel better.

This post was written by me and was published first in The Canberra Times.

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