New moms, experts worry about postpartum depression during COVID-19 as services cut back
Many in-person services now being offered by phone, video or have been cancelled altogether
Sleepless nights, countless dirty diapers and "hormonal fluctuations" were all on Karen Sleiman's list of expectations as a new mom. But she didn't plan for the lack of postpartum support due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four weeks ago, Sleiman gave birth to her daughter Amelia, which was also the day her community of Essex County declared a state of emergency. Her last OB appointment happened when the World Health Organization declared a coronavirus pandemic.
"I was basically right at the height when it was all going haywire and no one really knew what was happening and every day was different," said Sleiman.
Now, health experts are worried this period of self-isolation will only make things worse when it comes to postpartum depression. Many of the in-person services are now being offered by phone, video or have been cancelled altogether.
"I am dealing [with it] the best that I can. Some days it's not so bad, other days it's really tough," said Sleiman. "I'm already someone who doesn't do very well without a lot of sleep, so I was really worried about the postpartum phase ... would I slip into postpartum depression or anxiety."
Most health unit family nurses re-assigned to COVID-19
At the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, they've moved 19 of the 23 nurses from the Healthy Families program to other areas to help with COVID-19. Four nurses, and other staff, are left to assist pregnant women, new moms and young families by phone or video as best they can.
"The biggest factor is we're not able to take on any new clients," said Health Families manager Debbie Silvester. "Because the process isn't just simply we can just call them. We have to do an assessment to determine whether they qualify for our ongoing program."
However, they are continuing to offer phone and video support to the 180 clients they've identified as at-risk due to mental health issues, a premature birth or a mother who used tobacco during pregnancy.
In addition, nurses are calling all new mothers within the first few weeks of giving birth to see how things are going. Previously, they would only contact women with two or more identified risk factors.
Combating the feeling of self-isolation
For Sleiman, who's 29, she's trying her best to push the feeling of self-isolation away by staying connected to family and friends with frequent video chats. So far, she hasn't noticed any signs of postpartum depression. And her husband is off on paternity leave for now to help too.
"I find it really frustrating [to access] support," said Sleiman, who said she researched breastfeeding classes or in-home visits with little success. "None of that in-person contact where sometimes you just need somebody to hug you and say 'it's OK. It's really hard.' And I couldn't get that."
Grandparents meeting new baby through the window
One of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking experiences as a new mom was when her parents drove three hours from Hamilton to her home in Leamington, Ont. to meet their new granddaughter — through a window.
"It was just a five minute yell through the glass conversation and it meant so much to me," Sleiman said.
Watch Karen Sleiman describe how she felt during that moment:
Andrea Cassidy, a registered midwife in southwestern Ontario, said she's happy to see new moms are finding ways to stay connected with loved ones, and other new parents as well.
But not everyone has access to the same network of supports, which is why Cassidy is "very worried" about the mental health of new mothers at home self-isolating.
"We know that postpartum depression is fairly common and that it is a very significant health concern. And I think that isolation will absolutely add to that," said Cassidy. "It is a really challenging to be isolated at home."
She acknowledges that a lot of the resources to support postpartum women aren't in place currently.
"When you move to essential services, [it's important] to be ensuring that all the health-care providers working with new moms are reassuring women all of the resources that are still there for them, and assessing how is their mental health," said Cassidy.
To help fill a gap, Cassidy, who's also a lactation consultant, is offering a free virtual drop-in cafe for pregnant women or new mothers.
In an email to CBC News, Ontario's Ministry of Health said it's providing emergency funding of up to $12 million to expand online and virtual mental health help. The money includes cognitive behavioural therapy supports.
"[It's] an effective first line of treatment for postpartum depression. These services will help people who are unable to access in-person counselling supports," said spokesperson David Jensen.
He said this will allow agencies across the province to hire and train more staff, as well as purchase additional equipment and technology.
Here are some resources available to pregnant women, new moms and others experiencing mental health issues:
- Postpartum Support International (Not for people in crisis): Call 1-800-944-4773 or text 503-894-9453
- ConnexOntario, Ontario's mental health, addictions and problem gambling help line: 1-866-531-2600
- Windsor-Essex Counselling Support Line (24/7 during pandemic): 519-946-3277 or 1-877-451-1055
- Health Families program, via the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit: 519-258-2146 ext. 1350
- Windsor Regional Hospital community crisis line: 519-973-4435
- Distress Centre of Windsor-Essex County: 519-256-5000 (From noon to midnight each day)
- Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare 24-hour mental health crisis line: 519.973.4435
- Family Services Windsor-Essex: Call 1-888-933-1831 for information on how to access services
- Telehealth Ontario: 1-866-797-0000