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Pregnancy challenges amid pandemic

For hundreds of Sunshine Coast women expected to give birth during COVID-19, the rules and expectations have changed. This is what pregnancy and birth look like during a global pandemic. WORDS: AAP and MWP.

Health & wellbeing

Pregnancy challenges amid pandemic

For hundreds of Sunshine Coast women expected to give birth during COVID-19, the rules and expectations have changed. This is what pregnancy and birth look like during a global pandemic. WORDS: AAP and MWP.

Pregnancy during coronavirus looks far from normal for soon-to-be Australian mums. Check-ups over the phone, self-examinations and partner-less appointments are just some of the changes women have experienced during the pandemic.

Courtney Macleod-Smith is due to give birth to her daughter shortly and for her last trimester, appointments have largely been via telehealth or at her doctor’s clinic without her husband.

“It all became so clinical and it feels like the emotion has been taken out of everything,” the 32-year-old says.

“And it’s supposed to be an emotional and exciting time, especially with a first pregnancy.”

Her husband Stu was not allowed in the room at some medical appointments and on one occasion had to wait in the car while she had a scan. It was equally strange when Mrs Macleod-Smith had to essentially conduct her own examination and measure her belly over the phone for her obstetrician.

But Mrs Macleod-Smith is grateful her husband will be allowed in the delivery room.

Fellow mum-to-be Francesca Gardner is giving birth for the first time in July and has been having appointments from the car park of her hospital and via telehealth.

When she had in-person appointments, her husband Jack waited outside while she and her doctor put him on loudspeaker so he could hear his son’s heartbeat.

Mrs Gardner will soon participate in online birthing classes, which is not something she imagined would be part of her pregnancy experience.

Dianne Zalitis is a midwife and clinical lead of the nationally run Pregnancy, Birth and Baby service and says women have been noticeably more anxious during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Pregnancy is a time usually filled with joy and support and visits, but so many women have had that taken from them,” Ms Zalitis says.

“The social emotional aspect has changed and that is an important part – baby showers, visits – and having to get your head around not having that can be tough.”

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Australia, there was a lack of clarity about how much it could impact pregnant women, which contributed significantly to stress, Ms Zalitis adds.

The midwife, who has more than 30 years’ experience, says there is also little consistency across the nation as to how doctors provide care, causing some confusion for expectant mothers.

Ms Zalitis says there is a feeling for some women that they had to enter and exit hospital quickly, due to fear of contracting COVID-19 or concern they were taking up a much-needed bed, when it’s important they are given the freedom to recover properly.

Her advice for pregnant women is to stick to their birth plan and communicate as much as possible with doctors and nurses, who are also missing the personal connection to patients.

 

My story:

with MWP editor Candice Holznagel

I’ve been known to have bouts of worry when it comes to my health – who hasn’t?

And being 36 and pregnant does come with a few challenges. Of course, I never expected to be carrying my baby in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

As the cases of COVID-19 continue to grow around the world, so too does my belly. As my eyes well with tears at the global death statistics, my tummy swells in a constant reminder that I am responsible for the life of my unborn child.

Couple this with bouts of severe morning sickness, a chest infection, tonsillitis and pleurisy, and it’s been, at times, an emotional experience.

I have, however, found an inner strength; a renewed focus of the world and the blessings that I’ve been given. I certainly do not take this pregnancy or my position for granted.

I’ve taken to self-isolation with gusto and thoroughly enjoy the slow pace of my new norm. As a family, we’ve enjoyed weekend-long Monopoly games, DIY projects, baking, and at-home camp-outs. But with each week that ticks by, I can’t continue to ignore the reality – that I will be giving birth during a once-in-a-century pandemic that has stolen almost 360,000 lives. Never have I been more grateful to call Australia home.

Our political and medical leaders continue to lead the charge in combatting the spikes that have speared other nations. I feel I can trust in the medical advice being offered and the decreasing COVID-19 cases.

Naturally, there will be no baby shower and no joy-filled visits to baby goods’ stores – activities that are trivial in comparison with the crisis, but that help expectant mothers celebrate the impending birth of their child. I cried when I was told I had to attend each ultrasound appointment on my own, and panicked when there was talk my husband would not be allowed in the delivery room. Thankfully, this has now been given the okay.

At this stage there will be no visitors to the hospital, which honestly I’m okay with if it means keeping our new little one safe.

It is daunting to tell family and friends that our baby’s arrival won’t be accompanied by the traditional celebration.

There will be no cuddles and kisses, and we will be putting a hold on visitors until our baby reaches a growth milestone. But, I will not let a lack of understanding rattle me, because when all is said and done, as parents we have one job and that is to protect and love our children.

 

Maintain wellbeing during covid-19

Bringing a new child into the world is an emotional experience for parents, siblings and extended family. With the added pressure of COVID-19, it can also be a distressing time.

Queensland Health offers these general tips for looking after your mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

  1. Make time for you
  • Get healthy – be active, eat well and get enough sleep.
  • Keep learning – challenge your mind and seek out new things.
  • Show kindness – give back, show gratitude and bring joy to others’ lives.
  • Connect more – develop relationships, stay connected and care for each other.
  • Take notice – be mindful. Stay in the moment. Experience the world around you.
  • Embrace nature – step outside, connect with the natural world and take care of the planet, even if you are limited to your own yard or balcony, or a walk around the block.

 

  1. Stay connected

It’s important to stay connected to family, friends and colleagues. They are your support network and can help you through a crisis. Communication channels, such as text messages, email, video calls and chat can
be very helpful in staying connected.

 

  1. Keep perspective

Remember that crises swamp the headlines because they don’t happen often and are out of the ordinary – this is what makes them newsworthy.

 

  1. Keep a routine and set daily goals

It’s likely, with some of the recent changes, that your normal daily routines have also changed. Routines are an important part of restoring a sense of purpose and normality to daily life, so set new routines.

  1. Switch off

It might feel like you’re always watching, hearing or talking about the crisis. Turning off the news on the TV, radio or online, and taking a break from social media, can help clear your head and give you space to think about more positive things.

 

  1. Look after your physical wellbeing

Taking good care of your body is one of the most important things you can do to improve your mental wellbeing. Try to eat regularly and, where you can, eat a well-balanced nutritious diet. Find a way to keep physically active.

 

  1. Take some time out for things you enjoy

Even though times are difficult, you should take breaks and do something you enjoy. Taking time for you is always allowed and is really important for your mental wellbeing.

 

For more information visit qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19.

If you need support:
Lifeline: visit the website or call 131 114
Beyond Blue: visit the website or call 1300 224 636.

 

FOR FAMILIES – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Pregnant women should be considered a vulnerable group. The following advice has been sourced from Queensland Health and The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

DURING PREGNANCY
• Limit the amount of times you need to leave the house – leave only for essential purposes, like buying food, going to work or going to medical appointments.

  • Stay at least 1.5 metres away from people who don’t live in your home.
  • Stay at least 1.5 metres away from anyone who is unwell.
  • Hand wash regularly and frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Report health concerns immediately.
  • While it will not influence a response to COVID-19 infection, routine whooping cough and influenza vaccination should continue to be administered in pregnancy.

BIRTH
• Partners will be allowed in the delivery room during labour.

  • Check-ups with doctors are going ahead, but often via telehealth or at a distance.
  • Women who wish to breastfeed their babies should be encouraged and supported to do so. At the moment there is no evidence that the virus is carried in breast milk.
  • Hospital visitors may not be allowed.

FOLLOWING BIRTH
• Stay at home as much as possible, practise good hygiene.

  • Limit the number of people coming into your house to no more than two people at once, who stay 1.5 metres away from you and baby when possible.

If you develop cold or flu symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

 

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