Being pregnant or recently giving birth puts women at risk for anxiety and depression — and the chances are even higher due to the pandemic. What can you do?

There are things you can do to alleviate symptoms of depression or anxiety. But first, it may help to know that you’re not alone.

Approximately 1 in 7 women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum. Those numbers have likely gone up even more during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

“The arrival of your first child is incredibly exciting but also overwhelming, and many of us turn to family and friends for support,” says Margie Davenport, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, Canada, a co-author of the report.

“With the necessary physical distancing associated with COVID-19, many of these supports are no longer possible which can create an added layer of stress for new parents,” she says.

Davenport’s team surveyed 900 women. Of them, 58 percent were pregnant and 42 percent had delivered within a year.

In total:

  • 15 percent reported having depressive symptoms prior to the health crisis
  • 40.7 percent reported symptoms since the pandemic started
  • before the pandemic, 29 percent say they had moderate to high anxiety, which soared to 72 percent during the COVID-19 crisis

While 64 percent engaged in less physical activity as a result of isolation measures, those who got at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise reported fewer symptoms. They had lower scores for both anxiety and depression compared to those who didn’t work out.

The research has some limitations. Women were surveyed during the pandemic and gave pre-pandemic insight in hindsight.

And though validated scores were used to help the women gauge their levels of depression or anxiety, they weren’t officially diagnosed with the conditions.

When Davenport began the research, quarantines and stay-at-home orders had already started. Thus, she expected to see a rise in depression and anxiety.

“However, I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the problem,” admits Davenport. “Nearly 3 out of 4 women are experiencing moderate to high levels of anxiety, and 2 in 5 are experiencing a high likelihood of depression.”

“This really underscores the critical need for heightened assessment and treatment of maternal mental health,” she adds.

Not only is it hard to stay home, but women disconnected from family and friends are isolated from much needed support.

And even if you’re doing okay mentally, the added obstacles that come with going to the doctor (for yourself or your baby) opens the door for more stress — something that could spiral into anxiety or depression.

Other factors hitting women hard include worrying about your baby getting COVID-19, and how to receive proper maternity care. Others out of work or working at home are grappling to balance that with motherhood, and worrying about how their work-life balance may look in the future.

“The social and physical isolation measures that are critically needed to reduce the spread of the virus are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of many of us,” Davenport says.

Though there are challenges that come with being a pandemic parent, you can do things to alleviate the tension:

Know that you’re not alone

Being aware that others in your situation are feeling the same may put your nerves at ease.

A preprint 2020 survey of about 2,000 pregnant women in Canada found that 57 percent noted anxiety symptoms and 68 percent reported an increase in pregnancy-specific anxiety.

Use technology for support

Maintaining social interaction via video conferencing and online chat groups can provide support during the pandemic. Also, utilize virtual doctor’s visits when you can, as it can take the worry out of going into a medical setting.

“Continuing to be connected to medical care, as well as friends and family, is necessary,” Davenport says.

If you’re advised to seek in-person medical care or have difficulty accessing care virtually, it’s important to not put off doctor’s appointments and contact your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.

Keep moving

Exercise can do wonders for dealing with tough emotions — plus it’s great for you and your baby.

Try a prenatal yoga class or walk regularly to stay active. You may not be able to go to a mommy-and-me class right now, but a walk around the block can make a huge difference in your stress level.

Get professional help if you need it

Chatting with friends or family members can help, but don’t feel bad if you need to see a therapist or consider medication.

“I hope that parents recognize how common it is to experience depression and anxiety during this time. Even though it is common, it is still important to get diagnosis and treatment,” Davenport adds.

Plan ahead

Preparing to deliver a baby can be stressful, and doing it during the pandemic adds even more challenges that other parents never had to consider.

Talk to your doctor or the hospital ahead of time so you know what to expect about getting into the facility, and the role that your partner or visitors can have. This can help take some anxiety out of the experience.

Yes, not being able to function as usual is tough, but it may give you more time to enjoy your pregnancy or love on your little one.

“One of the wonderful positive aspects of the pandemic that we’re hearing about from new parents is that they are able to spend more time with their growing family with less distraction,” Davenport notes.

Kristen Fischer is a journalist, copywriter, and author. Her work has appeared in Health, Prevention, BabyCenter, and Parents. She’s the author of the kids’ yoga picture book “Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids.” Kristen is on the executive board of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Association of Health Care Journalists. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit her website. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband, son, and too many cats.