Becoming a parent is one of the most emotional human experiences. Once you discover you're becoming a parent, it's natural to feel all sorts of feelings (which can even conflict with each other), like excitement and fear, happiness and stress, or anything in between.

Many expecting and new parents live with anxiety. Whether it was a pre-existing factor of your life, or if becoming a parent has introduced new anxieties to your life, you are not alone. Particularly amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, bringing a baby into the world can be a confronting and confusing time. Here is some information to help you cope with having a newborn during a pandemic, and living with anxiety as a parent or parent-to-be.

How do I know if I have anxiety?

This article is not a diagnostic tool or a substitute for professional advice.

If you are experiencing some of the feelings on this list, it could be time to chat with your doctor, midwife or therapist about your mental health and wellbeing.

  • Difficulty sleeping, even when the baby is asleep
  • Inability to focus
  • Trouble planning ahead
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Feeling worthless
  • Worries about the future distracting you from the day-to-day
  • Heart racing in the absence of physical activity

If you notice changes to your mood or are struggling with negative feelings for two weeks or more, consult your healthcare professional. If you’re not sure whether what you’re feeling is a cause for concern, PANDA’s checklist is an anonymous online tool that asks questions about your thoughts and feelings and will give an indication of whether your experiences could be a reason to seek help (though this is not a diagnostic tool).

Anxiety and COVID-19

The current pandemic has affected the mental wellbeing of many people all over the world. It is completely normal to be experiencing anxiety about bringing a baby into what has been an increasingly uncertain world. Don't worry – you are not alone, and help is available.

Here's some information about COVID-19 and pregnancy:

  • Coronavirus is a relatively new novel virus, meaning experts don't yet know for sure its lasting effects. At this stage, current evidence suggests the risk of COVID-19 to a mother and her unborn baby is very small. However, pregnant women are placed in the 'high-risk' category, so if you are pregnant and experiencing symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.
  • Symptoms resemble a common cold, or sometimes an infected person will not experience symptoms at all. Try not to panic if you're experiencing symptoms, as there is no way to know whether you have coronavirus or a simple cold until you are tested.
  • Currently, there is no evidence to suggest coronavirus is carried in breastmilk; breastmilk usually plays an important role in building up your baby’s immune systems and preventing infection. At this stage, the main risk associated with breastfeeding if you have coronavirus is being in close contact with your baby, so consult your GP to plan how to proceed with feeds.

If the possibility of catching COVID-19 is bringing you stress, you can do your best to self-isolate. During self-isolation, prioritize your mental wellbeing; try to have frequent video chats or phone calls with loved ones, exercise safely within your home and reach out if you need support.

For more information on COVID-19 and pregnancy, visit the Raising Children website.

Dealing with anxiety as an expectant or new parent

Anxiety is natural, though often not pleasant. There is no shame in experiencing anxiety. Anxiety does not mean you are a bad parent or a bad person. If you think you may be experiencing anxiety or depression, consult your GP, midwife or therapist.

As a new or soon-to-be parent, you may be worrying about the future – this is understandable. Do your best to stay present and manage anxiety as it arises. A health professional can help you develop coping strategies. Some things which may help when managing anxiety include:

  • Remember that taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your family. Me-time and self-care don't go out the window when you become a parent!
  • Eat as well as possible.
  • Accept that sometimes it’s okay not to feel like cooking.
  • Reach out for help when you need it. Accept it when offered.
  • If you're feeling unmotivated or like a 'failure', try setting small, achievable goals. If you don't meet your goal today, that's ok – try again tomorrow, or accept that you might need a break for now.
  • Increase your exercise levels. If you are pregnant, make sure you practice pregnancy-safe physical activity.
  • Consider pursuing old or new hobbies like painting, knitting, reading, baking, etc.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones as best you can; you may not be able to see many people in person but utilise phone calls or video chats.
  • You may benefit from the stability of a routine. Knowing what to expect can sometimes help alleviate feelings of anxiety. Remember not to be too strict on yourself about what you 'should' be achieving as a new parent. You're on a journey and all new parents have a lot to learn!
  • Practise mindfulness – be aware of your surroundings and your senses, and allow yourself to acknowledge and let go of persistent, worrisome thoughts.

If you're experiencing anxiety or depression as a parent or parent-to-be, call the National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306 Monday to Friday, 9 am to 7.30 pm AEST/AEDT. From now until the end of February 2021, this helpline is also open on Saturday from 9 am to 7:30 pm.

Struggling with anxiety is not a reflection of your value as a person or parent. One of the strongest things you can do is seek support when you need it!