Pregnancy and the postpartum period are wild and challenging for any parent. Having a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic is a different beast altogether.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we live literally overnight,” Dr. Tanya Altmann, a California-based pediatrician, told HuffPost. “It varies hospital to hospital, but some moms have to limit partners or support they were planning on having in the delivery room, [and] some babies are being discharged home earlier than usual, leaving new moms with questions and concerns.”
Because the situation is so challenging and unprecedented, it can be tricky to know what to do and say (or not) to support a friend or loved one who gives birth.
Here are a few ways to help.
1. Validate how hard this all is
One of the kindest things you can do to support a friend who is expecting or just had a baby is to simply acknowledge how anxious or frightened or disappointed they might be feeling right now.
“While some amount of anxiety has always been common with new parents ... the sense that there is mortal danger just outside the door is new and unprecedented,” said Olivia Bergeron, a Brooklyn-based clinical social worker who specializes in working with parents during moments of big transition in their lives.
Many new and expectant parents are stuck in an “anxiety loop,” Bergeron said. They’re desperate to keep their babies safe, and have relatively few concrete ways they can do that available to them. Start by simply acknowledging how incredibly difficult that might feel.
2. Reach out regularly — without expecting a response
Not being able to see your friend face-to-face doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Reach out via your friend’s preferred method (whether that’s a phone call, a text, email or video chat) and make sure they know you don’t care if they pick up or get back to you, Bergeron said.
“Make it clear new parents can get in touch whenever it is convenient,” she said. “Just knowing that someone is thinking of you and your new baby can help tame the sense of isolation.” (Of course, that’s true during non-COVID 19 times as well.)
And keep it up after the immediate postpartum period is over.
“Many parents report that people reach out within the first six weeks when they themselves are running on adrenaline and the thrill of novelty,” Bergeron said. “There is often a precipitous drop-off afterwards.” Such a drop-off can lead to a real sense of isolation and abandonment, particularly for parents who are stuck at home.
“Now isn’t necessarily the time to regale your friend or with anecdotes from your own pregnancy or postpartum experience. What they’re going through is unprecedented.”
3. Offer to help with research
“If your friend shares that they are overwhelmed with something, offering to look into it and find resources for them could also be a huge help,” said Rachel Goldstein, owner of the New York-based Astoria Doula Collective.
That is particularly true at this moment in time, when everything feels like it is changing by the minute — and many of the plans your friend may have put in place have been upended. What are the most recent COVID-19 policies where your friend lives? What’s the number for a virtual lactation consultant? Do they have to wipe down diaper deliveries? The questions go on and on. Offer to do that kind of research for your friend when possible.
4. Send care packages and food
A huge challenge for new parents right now is that they’re having to get through the postpartum period almost entirely on their own. Friends and family can’t come over to visit their new little human, cook a meal, or hold the baby so they can sneak in a shower.
But you can lend a hand from a safe distance. Can you drop off a home-cooked meal without making any kind of contact? Can you send an online gift card to a grocery-delivery service?
“Nourishing the parents is a huge help,” Goldstein said. “Try to find out ahead of time what they are comfortable with and what options are near them.”
Another way to help is to make sure they’ve got plenty of handy postpartum items, like comfortable pajamas, and baby supplies, Goldstein said. New parents can’t necessarily pop out in the middle of the night to get key items right now, so see if there are any basics you can help cover.
5. Ask open-ended questions
Helping a friend doesn’t need to be complicated. Simply ask how they’re doing, then make it clear you’re really, truly listening to what they have to say.
“Don’t feel the need to cajole someone to feel less negative or to cheerlead by shutting down conversations that turn to the less savory side of new parenthood,” Bergeron said. “Unpacking the range of feelings without having to put on a brave front can be very liberating for parents.”
Now isn’t necessarily the time to regale your friend or with anecdotes from your own pregnancy or postpartum experience. What they’re going through is unprecedented, so simply make space for your friend to share what the experience is like for them.
Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.
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