BOSTON, Mass. — New moms often have a hard time finding their rhythm when they begin parenthood, and a new study suggests that the pandemic has made it even harder for first-time moms to bond with their babies.
Chrissy Athens gave birth to her daughter Seeley back in February. Both are perfectly happy and perfectly healthy, but navigating COVID-19 with an infant isn't always easy.
"I'm just trying to create as normal of a childhood as I can despite the pandemic," Athens said.
On a recent morning, that bit of normalcy came from a music class in downtown Boston park. It was a chance for parents to bond with their babies. And while finding the right chord for first-time moms has always been tough, COVID-19 has added another layer of uncertainty and stress these last two years.
"I think it was harder when I was pregnant trying to protect myself and her," Athens said.
It turns out the pandemic has really impacted moms and infants perhaps more than most people realized.
Dr. Carmina Erdei and her colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital just wrapped up a year-long study. What they found was many mothers reported lower ratings of infant bonding because of experiences related to COVID-19.
"There are various psychological risks to maternal mental health and well-being," Dr. Erdei said.
Many new moms said they were feeling symptoms of depression through the pandemic, which in turn made it harder for them to bond with their new baby.
"It’s really a vicious cycle. When mothers are depressed, they have a harder time engaging with their baby," she added.
Dr. Erdei and her team are using all this information to help new and expecting moms. Brigham and Women’s is one of the first hospitals in the country working to establish a perinatal mental health program embedded into their NICU. The hope is it will help new moms who are struggling even before they give birth.
"For us, the lessons learned is that it’s really important to screen for postpartum depression," Dr. Edei added.
As for Chrissy Athens, a lot of the pressures she was dealing with during her pregnancy have subsided. These days she's just trying to spend as much time as she can watching her daughter grow up.
"You can only stress so much. I just want her to not feel like there’s a pandemic happening."