Maternal mental health during COVID-19 and beyond

As this pandemic continues to hang around, there is so much more concern, anxiety, worry and wellness issues around Coronavirus. This is not something anyone was prepared for, and everyone has been forced into unexpected mental shifts. 

The journey to motherhood can be stressful in normal times. Couple that with Coronavirus, and the challenges multiply. Fortunately, there are exceptional experts to help you cope in this crazy time. 

Groundhog day, again

Dr. Carly Snyder is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist in New York, who works mostly if not exclusively with moms on reproductive psychiatric issues. She focuses on working with women who are struggling with emotional symptoms throughout the reproductive years. 

Dr. Carly Snyder, reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist

Some of Dr. Synder’s patients begin seeing her when they are not even considering reproduction yet but are struggling with mood fluctuations. She says the beautiful part is that they end up sticking with Dr. Snyder through their reproductive years. Some women come to her during fertility treatments, then have a baby and another. “I get to see the whole experience and it’s wonderful. It’s like a life cycle journey that I get to join them on.”  

Dr. Snyder stresses that this new world of having children during COVID-19 is a day-by-day process. Although every day seems to feel like the same thing over and over again, each day is bound to be a little different. “For a woman, if there’s one time in her life where her entire identity shifts and life changes it’s having a baby. A lot of what I do is helping women process their feelings surrounding reproduction, especially those with an anxiety disorder, depression, or a mood disorder of any form that keeps them from having an otherwise normal experience.”

“Motherhood isn’t easy, but it should never be painful.”

In just the past few years, the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommending postpartum depression screening. “In my practice, we have been screening new moms and were shocked at how many women with postpartum depression there were. Now, we have systems in place so that we are not only seeing and detecting it, but helping these new moms get the resources they need.” 

Dr. Snyder says those systems are even more essential now that there’s been an increase of postpartum anxiety and depression. If new moms had pre-existing anxiety, depression, or other mood issues, they are often heightened by the fatigue, lack of sleep, emotional and hormonal changes that motherhood brings under normal circumstances.

The pregnancy glow can look different 

Dr. Snyder says, “There is a fallacy in our culture that women who are pregnant are meant to have butterflies floating around their heads. We have this idea that she’s just meant to be glowing and happy at all times. Then there’s a woman who doesn’t, for whatever reason, in pregnancy feel that way and they feel a sense that something is wrong with them.” 

According to Dr. Snyder, ”The greatest risk factor for postpartum depression is antepartum–depression or being depressed in pregnancy. This is very much under-discussed and under-appreciated because women don’t often talk about it. Untreated illness in pregnancy can profoundly negatively impacted a baby in the future and a child in the future.”

The ability to help a woman and her child in the present and future is just one of the many reasons Dr. Snyder loves the work she does. “There’s so much pressure that we put as a society on a micro and a macro level on women that is so unnecessary. When a woman feels that she can finally ask for help and the fact that I can give her that help, it is really rewarding. Being able to help someone who is suffering and watching them return back to normal because of an intervention is definitely a highlight.”

Into the unknown

In the context of Coronavirus, mental health issues are often amplified by social distancing, quarantine life and questions on mortality. In her practice, Dr. Snyder tells patients, “If you are not anxious when you’re pregnant, then there’s something wrong. When pregnant, there is a huge unknown, and we don’t have a looking glass to check on the baby.”

Right now, there is this stronger feeling of uncertainty of the unknown. “You never know if the person you just passed on the sidewalk could be a harbinger of disease, so there’s this profound degree of uncertainty and fear completely unrelated to pregnancy.” Coronavirus is a novel virus that means “we don’t have much data in terms of its effects on a pregnant woman or her child.” 

Normally in difficult times, you are able to lean on family and friends. Although technology allows us to connect with family and friends virtually, social distancing prevents us from comforting someone without major precautions. “It’s a true paradox from who we are socially. We hug someone when they are crying. Our gut instinct is to go in and comfort. Now, we are constantly saying, “No, for your protection and mine.”

With the normal stresses of pregnancy and COVID-19’s added challenges, Dr. Snyder says, “Many pregnant women’s level of isolation is extremely high, and their feelings of fear are through the roof right now.” Dr. Snyder works to address these fears and symptoms while also “normalizing the fact that there is nothing that can be done about what is truly an understandable fear.” Sometimes, all someone needs is validation.

Waiting for life to get back to normal

While the world is eagerly awaiting the return to life as we know it, Dr. Snyder has been trying to empower her patients to be as proactive as they can be in the present. Many pregnant women have been having their partners go to the store for them to minimize contact and have been able to safely stay at home. 

On the flip side, women need to be sure to get outside because getting fresh air is so vital. “Really, it makes everything better when you have that sun on your back.” While going outside, it’s important to consider whether you’ll be in close proximity with others and will need a mask. “But if there’s no one around you, take it off because wearing a mask can be anxiety-inducing.”

The future is up in the air right now, so Dr. Snyder has been encouraging her patients to take it day-by-day. Embrace the unique opportunities this time affords us to slow down and get things done that have fallen to the back burner. 

Dr. Snyder’s 5 ways to get more comfortable being uncomfortable

  1. Find the silver lining: We don’t know what life is going to look like in the next two months, and so much is constantly changing that planning for the future is near-impossible. Try to take what you have right now and find the silver lining in it rather than jumping three steps ahead and trying to figure out how you’ll deal with it. 
  1. Learn a new skill: As much as humanly possible, try to use your time as productively as possible. We have a lot more time to breathe right now, so use it to make plans for video calls with friends, to read, or do something that fulfills a passion of yours. Learn to enjoy the slowness of a very ordinary life, because sooner or later it will return to the busyness that we are used to. Watch Youtube tutorials on painting, cake decorating, flower-arranging or something that piques your interest. The opportunities are endless. 
  1. Turn off the news: With all the unknowns, no one really knows what’s going on. There’s nothing that you are going to see on the news today that’s going to impact your family today that you can’t get by checking an email or Facebook post later. 
  1. Get organized: Do you also have that one drawer that always seems to get cluttered? Use this time to research different methods of organization online to try them out and see which one works for you. Instead of cleaning the same area over and over that never stays organized, find a technique that works for you. Fill empty picture frames that you’ve been procrastinating, and take your time because there is no rush. You could even make it a family project.
  1. Create a “normal” routine: If you normally get up early, try to wake up around the same time and have a schedule that you stick to throughout the day. Kids and adults alike thrive with a routine, relaxed or rigid depending on the person. During this time, it’s imperative to keep some semblance of a routine to stay anchored. 

When you focus on the day-to-day, it’s easier than trying to plot out the future of unknowns down the road. Dr. Snyder is helping patients and many others through her online resources to normalize a lot of what that parents, families and specifically moms are going through now. Hearing strategies on how to make things better at the moment, rather than trying to dwell on the past or focus on the future, can make a big difference in a healthy mental attitude. 

You can find more of Dr. Snyder’s articles, podcasts and other resources on It’s a great resource for moms, especially at this moment of uncertainty in the world.

If you want a supportive place to chat with like-minded parents join my Present and Productive Parents Group on Facebook. If you like what you hear, please leave a rating and review on this podcast.

Links and Resources:

Dr. Phil Boucher on Instagram
@DrPhilBoucher on Twitter
@DrPhilBoucher on Facebook
Dr. Phil Boucher


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