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Ripple effects of Covid impacting pregnancies

Midwife, Violet Clapham, says an increase in anxiety and depression among her clients can be put down to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Canterbury-based midwife works with an average of four clients a month, and has been busy delivering babies ever since the pandemic hit our shores earlier this year.

“With any conversation in 2020, there is something around Covid. It’s just front and centre for a lot of people,” she says.

From her experience, it’s evident that the pandemic has and continues to have a negative impact on the mental health of hapū Māmā, as well as new Māmā.

Antenatal or postnatal depression is defined as a major depressive episode that occurs during pregnancy, or within 4 to 12 weeks of giving birth.

Violet says that New Zealand’s first noho rāhui/lockdown threw pregnant women and new mums a massive curve ball.

“It made everybody stop and say ‘what does this actually mean and what do we need to change to navigate it safely,” says Violet.

“I think that did bring about an increased amount of stress for women, in particular those who were due to have a baby over the level four lockdown. We noticed a lot of anxiety over that time and the need for extra support.”

Midwives like Violet were sometimes the only health practitioner with women during their pregnancy and birth, after other health practitioners withdrew face-to-face services.

She says it was a lot for both pregnant women and midwives to work through.

“We could be the only person they were allowing into their bubbles. We were the friendly ear, reassuring voice and offering guidance on what the implications of that meant for them. It just reaffirmed the depth of trust that women have with their midwife.”

While still in the midst of the pandemic, we are yet to fully know how the “ripple effects” of the pandemic will impact babies in utero and their families, says Violet.

Her focus – as it always is - is very much on boosting the wellbeing of the family/ whānau unit.

External pressures, like job losses, are negatively affecting the families and whānau she works with. Fathers too, are not immune to antenatal or post natal depression, says Violet.

“I think for Fathers, they’ve been carrying extra strain around feeling the need to protect their family and not quite knowing how to do that. I suspect there might be some Fathers who have been in survival mode for some time,” says Violet.

Violet says that lockdown 2.0 in Auckland brought about a new wave of challenges, and she and her colleagues had noticed “anxiety creeping in again”.

“If you’ve got high stress in a woman, it’s going to have implications on her unborn baby as well.”

New Zealand College of Midwives, midwifery advisor, Lesley Dixon says depression and anxiety are relatively common during pregnancy and following birth, with women affected by pre-existing mental health issues at higher risk.

“Being pregnant, giving birth and becoming a parent are all major life changes, however, there may be numerous reasons why women become anxious or depressed at this time - which may be related to their individual circumstances, stresses and support systems.”

“Recognising depression and getting help is important because unresolved depression can not only affect the woman and her baby’s longer term health, but also the relationships the woman has with her baby, partner and wider whānau.”

Violet says there are easy things we can all do to support hapū Mama or new Mums, if they’re struggling at this time.

“It’s about just actually hearing them, being there, or if a woman is feeling isolated, being there on the phone. Thinking about the little things that can make a difference, like going round and hanging out a load of washing, doing the dishes or sending a text message, can make a big difference.”

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