Coronavirus and Postpartum Depression – Are You at Risk?

Does postpartum depression put you at a higher risk for contracting coronavirus?

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, is officially a global pandemic and causing all kinds of anxiety and uncertainty.  It can be especially hard on new moms who are already dealing with mental health issues.   Moms with postpartum depression might see an increase in their symptoms during this time.  Yes, it’s a stressful time for everyone, but could moms with mental health issues actually be at a higher risk?

If you have postpartum depression, find out if you are at risk of contracting coronavirus. 
Coronavirus and Postpartum Depression: Are you at Risk?
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Coronavirus and Postpartum Depression

Coronavirus and Postpartum Depression


Those most at risk for contracting coronavirus include the sick, elderly and people with a weakened immune system Many mothers with postpartum depression may suffer from a weak immune system, which is what puts them in the high-risk category.  Depending on how recently a mother has given birth, her immune system may not have had a chance to recover properly.  And certain behaviors caused by postpartum depression can affect our immune systems as well. 

Symptoms of a weakened immune system:

    • Frequent and long lasting illnesses and infections
    • Fatigue
    • Digestion issues (diarrhea, nausea, constipation)
    • New or increased allergies
    • Joint pain or inflammation

Think about whether or not you seem to catch every cold or still get the flu despite getting the flu shot.  Do your symptoms drag on for a long time? Do your wounds take long to heal?   These are all warning signs that you could have a weak immune system.  And if you’re likely to catch a cold from someone sneezing nearing you, then you’re also likely to catch coronavirus.

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How does postpartum depression cause a weakened immune system?

Stress

Stress is the number one culprit when it comes to a weakened immune system.  High levels of stress can increase our cortisol levels and decrease our lymphocytes (the white blood cells that help fight off infection).  This imbalance within our bodies makes us more susceptible to viruses, like COVID-19.  Moms with postpartum depression and anxiety often find themselves under a lot of stress.  It’s never easy to manage the kids and a household, while trying to maintain our own mental health. Therefore, they are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

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Sleep Deprivation

New moms, especially those with symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, are not getting nearly enough sleep as they need to.  Chronic sleep deprivation can affect our immune system in a negative way.  Normally while we sleep, our body works to produce certain antibodies that help us fight infection.  Sleep is also our body’s time to recharge and refill.  But when we don’t get enough sleep, our immune system goes into overdrive.  Then it doesn’t work when we need it to the most, like for fighting off the coronavirus. 

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Isolation

Both postpartum depression and anxiety can cause a new mother to distance herself from others, long before the CDC recommended it for the prevention of the spread of Coronavirus.  Moms normally take extra measures to keep baby away from crowds and strangers, in order to protect their fragile immune systems.  But all this time spent in isolation results in the opposite for moms.  Without being exposed to normal, everyday bacteria in the outside world, moms haven’t been able to build up any immunity to it.  Our immune system needs a lot of practice in order to keep it in good, working condition.

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Fluctuating Hormone Levels

While the underlying cause of postpartum depression is still unknown, some theories suggest it could be due to changes in hormone levels after giving birth.  We know this to be the cause when it comes to the baby blues, which is why it’s so common and doesn’t last long.  Postpartum depression is a much more complicated illness, however.  Either way, lower levels of estrogen may contribute to weakening the immune system.  All women who experience a hormonal imbalance of estrogen might be susceptible.  This includes women who are postpartum, peri-menopausal or who have had a hysterectomy.

Unhealthy Eating Habits

Our body needs a steady source of vitamins and minerals in order to stay healthy.  But moms with postpartum depression or anxiety don’t always have the greatest eating habits.  Whether it’s binge-eating junk food or skipping meals all together, these bad habits can weaken our immune system and make us susceptible to the coronavirus.  If food was an issue during your pregnancy (due to hyperemesis gravidarum, gestational diabetes, anemia, etc.) you may already have some type of vitamin deficiency.

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How will coronavirus affect a mom’s mental health?

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    • Those with postpartum OCD might be overwhelmed about keeping germs away, hand-washing and disinfecting everything they touch (more than usual, that is).
    • Stress.  Lots of stress.  Stress about running out of food and supplies.  Stress about entertaining the kids while they’re off school.  Financial stress, marital stress, etc. 
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What to do about it

The coronavirus is so new that not much is known about it yet.  Studies are being conducted on the effects of coronavirus on pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding moms, but they are still in the early stages.  Experts are working hard for answers but until then, it’s up to us to try to keep it contained. 

Here are some things that moms with postpartum depression can do during the coronavirus outbreak to help maintain their mental health.
    • Stop reading all the global news stories. Instead,  stick to the local news coverage, which will keep you updated on the issues that affect you the most.
    • Follow the CDC’s recommendations for prevention of the spread of coronavirus, and bear in mind that these are updated as more information becomes available. 
    • Eat healthy.  Stock up on fruit and vegetables and choose homemade meals over home delivery during quarantine.
    • Use an immune health supplement. Boost your immune system with a combination of Echinacea, Zinc and Vitamin C.
    • Drink lots of water.  Regularly drinking water not only boosts your immune system, but helps to flush out any unwanted bacteria in your body. 
    • Get plenty of fresh air in wide, open spaces.  Avoid crowded parks and playgrounds and take a stroll through nature instead. 
    • Practice deep breathing and meditation. Not only does meditation help to calm stress, but taking long, deep breaths will actually improve your lung function.  Strong lungs will help in the event that you need to fight off coronavirus. 
    • Focus on the positive. This worldwide pandemic is one for the history books!   As scary as the times are right now, we are living in a moment of history.  Try journaling your experiences, or take photos.  Look for ways that you can help out someone else, even if it’s just by making a phone call to check in. 
    • Continue practicing self care.  Increase the amount of self care you do daily, if that’s an option.  In order to keep yourself from getting cabin fever, you’ll need to find time to yourself each day. 
    • Try online therapy. If your mental health is truly suffering during the coronavirus outbreak, this is something you can always do from home. 
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The thought of a global pandemic killing thousands of people across the world is truly terrifying.  With the intense amount of media coverage on the coronavirus, it can get very overwhelming for a mother with postpartum depression.  It’s terrifying because so much of it is out of our control. 

We need to focus on the small things that we can control.  Don’t waste your time hoarding toilet paper.  Instead, work on getting your immune system ready by eating healthy, getting enough sleep and finding ways to reduce your stress levels. In time, this too shall pass. 

Author: Vanessa Rapisarda

Vanessa is a married, mother of three gorgeous kids. As a postpartum depression survivor, she writes about maternal mental health and wellness. She believes that speaking up about postpartum depression is one of the strongest things a mother can do to help raise awareness and end the stigma of mental illness.