The pandemic has brought unprecedented times to the year 2020. Expecting mothers in Volusia county are asking themselves, “How do I navigate one of the most important life events during a pandemic?” Some answers might include: listening to a preferred health professional, conducting research from trusted sources and finding the right balance that works for their family. The pandemic has dramatically changed the pregnancy experience.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people.” In the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic, what little information trickled out about the virus largely overlooked this high risk group. Currently, studies continue to be published and questions are getting answered.
People respond differently to identical stressful situations for a host of reasons. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “toxic stress” in pregnant women has been linked to complications like gestational diabetes, impaired fetal development, low birth weight, neurodevelopmental problems and preeclampsia (high blood pressure). A lack of control and information makes stress worse. Things such as not knowing how long the stress will last and how intense the stress will be add to a pregnant woman’s and new mother’s stress levels.
The CDC’s preventative steps for pregnant women are similar to the guidelines for the general public: wear a mask, limit interactions with people who might have been exposed, avoid people not wearing a mask, wash your hands frequently and reconsider attending events where social distancing can not be maintained.
“I was pregnant and working in healthcare, specifically with people’s airways,” describes Ruthie Nicastro, a Volusia resident for 10 years. She and her husband, Josh, along with their daughter, Kaia, 9, welcomed a son/brother to their family, Koa John Nicastro, on July 19, 2020. “I was overwhelmed worrying about what would happen if myself or my baby contracted the virus.”
Nicastro used social media for information and research. “I was a part of many Facebook groups, like COVID-19 USA physician/APP group, with medical professionals both advanced practitioners and doctors. They shared case studies on different patients and how it affected different people.” In order to protect herself while working, she wore a respirator five days a week, instead of the recommended N95 mask.
The first step to prenatal care is choosing a trusted healthcare provider or midwife to monitor the health and well being of the baby. These professionals are essential to build trust in order to navigate decision making during pregnancy and especially during a pandemic. Each can help to prepare a mother and her body for a healthy delivery.
The COVID-19 recommendations for doctor’s office visits change often. Because of the risk of spreading the virus, some women attend prenatal appointments alone. Their partner or family member was not allowed at the office. The exciting ultrasounds are no longer a shared experience as in the past. Although, every office is different and precautions constantly change.
“My family planned a home birth. I was really lucky because all of my visits with my midwife were at our home, my whole family could attend with me,” explained Danika Isaac, a long time Volusia resident. She and her husband, Nathaniel, along with their daughters Nya, 9, and Ahni, 6, welcomed a son/brother to their family, Evren Asher Isaac, on August 29, 2020. “In the event of a hospital transfer, I shared the same concerns. The data is so limited, I did not know what to expect,” stated Isaac.
The good news: prenatal stress during the pandemic can be reduced. A robust social support network is critical; friends and family are needed as new parents become exhausted and vulnerable to postpartum depression. Although COVID-19 makes in-person support difficult, if not impossible, technology – like Facetime and Zoom – can be a connector. Online group prenatal care is another possibility. So are relaxation and mindfulness techniques. A healthy diet, adequate sleep and exercise also help.