COLORADO SPRINGS — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, health experts are seeing a growing number of pregnant women and new mothers seek mental health support.
The Healthy Expectations Perinatal Mental Health Program at the Children's Hospital Colorado helps pregnant women and women experiencing mood, anxiety, or traumatic stress concerns during pregnancy or after delivery, as well as their families. The hospital also provides evaluations for psychiatric and psychosocial concerns in the perinatal period along with group therapy and medication management.
Since the pandemic began in March, new mothers have been faced with additional challenges. Anastasia Klott welcomed her now nine-month-old baby girl near the beginning of the pandemic, in a time of much uncertainty.
"Being a new mom in a pandemic has definitely posed some challenges that I did not expect when I was pregnant initially," said Klott. "I definitely had to adjust my expectations of what new motherhood would look like."
Klott says one of the biggest challenges, that many others have faced during the pandemic, was social isolation.
"As a new mom, grandparents come to visit and help out or friends. Our friends helped out in different ways, they dropped food on our porch but we weren't able to have visitors or show off our new baby," said Klott.
New mothers are often faced with the "baby blues," a two-week period where they have mood swings, exhaustion, sleep problems, and crying spells. Adding a global pandemic to that is a lot for anyone to handle, but even more so for new mothers.
Klott says she's stayed grounded during this time and practiced radical acceptance.
"Just taking and accepting a situation for what it is even if it is not something you planned or hoped for. It's something I had to practice as a new mom, it wasn't the ideal situation to bring a baby into the world in the middle of a pandemic but it is what it is. We'll stay at home, hang out, and make the most out of it," said Klott.
With the Healthy Expectations Perinatal Mental Health Program, pregnant women and new mothers can receive treatment for depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar mood disorder, postpartum psychosis, and birth trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Since the pandemic hit, the program had to pivot to telehealth but has allowed more mothers the opportunity to join programs.
"A lot of groups are topic-based but relationship-based so it's a lot of moms checking in on how they're doing. We do teach some mindfulness skills that you can do over ZOOM, being aware of your five senses and what are you thinking, feeling, hearing, and smelling," Celeste St. John-Larkin, Child, Adolescent and Perinatal Psychiatrist at Children's Hospital Colorado. "We've had a huge increase in telehealth uptake, both for individual appointments and the group programs that we do in other mental health settings have all converted to telehealth and continued. I think it's been great for the parents and babies."
St. John-Larkin says mothers who've joined the program have adapted quickly to telehealth sessions.
"We've been surprised at how moms have connected so quickly with each other, even over the video platform. So I think it's a sign of the times, and there's really been great group cohesion and the moms really support each other, even over this platform," said St. John-Larkin.
Health experts at Children's Hospital Colorado say the pandemic has prompted more interest in their mental health programs.
"Stress is increased which leads to increased anxiety and depression, there are increased financial stressors, increased stressors for people working at home and trying to be a parent and working with a new baby. So we've definitely had an increase in calls, I think we've had more people participating and completing our group programs that are generally about 12 weeks," St. John-Larkin.
For mothers still struggling during the pandemic. she says it's important they reach out to friends and family for help.
"One of our biggest pieces of advice is to connect with people and be able to share your story. We know it's hard because there is a stigma around mental health concerns, especially
during postpartum where things are supposed to be all joy and love, but sometimes that doesn't happen for everybody. So seeking out support from people you know, and joining programs like ours where you can get support from people who may be going through similar things," said St. John-Larkin.
She also encourages mothers to get sunshine and exercise and take time for themself.
"The other biggest thing is encouraging moms that it's OK to ask for help. Often new moms feel like they don't want to be a burden, and I should be able to do this by myself. We really normalize that you can't and it's okay to ask for help," said St.John Larkin.
Klott says it's important mothers reach out if they are struggling with their mental health during the pandemic.
"Being able to just be around other moms is really helpful," said Klott.
Anyone interested in the programs at Children's Hospital Colorado or who want to schedule an appointment can call them at 303- 864-5252 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.