The pandemic has challenged the mental health and wellbeing of every one of us. But for parents, the burden has been immense. For new mums who are incredibly vulnerable and struggling with the enormous psychological transition of becoming a new mum, it has compounded the feelings of isolation and increased the barriers to accessing care and support.
In this article we ask experts from the FemTech space what the price of the pandemic has been on parents, and how FemTech innovations are supporting parents to overcome these issues.
Covid-19 for Parents
“Official rates of perinatal mental health issues were already high (1 in 5 women will suffer mental health issues during pregnancy or in the 1st year after birth (Royal College of Psychiatrists)), with historical studies suggesting up to 50% of mothers are undiagnosed and struggle alone without support (NCT Research). However, the pandemic has exacerbated the issues of new motherhood even further” says Sara Campin, CEO of Nourish, whose app offers bite-sized emotional support, wellbeing & calm for parents.
This idea of struggling alone was only further compounded by social distancing rules and lockdowns. This sense of loneliness and isolation were issues which all of our experts raised.
“It is a very difficult time for mothers, who find peer-to-peer support groups closed and very few opportunities to create their own tribe and share their breastfeeding journey with other mothers”, Maria Berruezo, Co-Founder of LactApp whose app provides AI-enabled personalised digital postnatal maternity advice and breastfeeding support said.
Sara Campin agreed with Maria stating, “there was also, of course, hugely reduced support from family and friend networks, baby groups and more all of which have continued to be inhibited throughout the last year.”
Dr. Sharon Haramati and Dr. Ravid Shechter of MyMilk Labs whose technology MyLee assists mothers with their breastfeeding progress and milk supply, reiterated this point saying, “for new moms, the COVID-19 pandemic caused isolation, mothers were discharged from the hospital ASAP after birth with minimal interaction, many care services did not operate well, child visits were very limited, and peer support groups were no longer available. Most lactation consultant basically shut down their home visits, and mothers were left even more isolated and alone in their breastfeeding journeys. This is true on a global scale!”
Karen Hanson, Co-founder and CCO of Fertility Circle, an app providing fertility support, highlighted that this wasn’t just the case for new mums. She said, “for those who unfortunately experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage during the pandemic, often important medical procedures were unavailable and again the lack of support left people feeling isolated and alone.”
Removal of Services
Sara Campin of the Nourish app summarised the issue perfectly saying, “the pandemic has exacerbated the issues of new motherhood even further. During the first UK lockdown in 2020, strict social distancing measures caused significant disruptions to the care and support of new mothers such as reduced in person postnatal health checks, breastfeeding support and baby weigh-in clinics. There was also a significant period of time when birth partners were also not able to support the mother during the labour and birth or visit afterwards.”
Maria Berruezo, agreed with Sara, highlighting, “Life as a postpartum mum has often been lonely for many, but the pandemic has further aggravated the situation.”
Maria went onto say, “the pandemic is making it more difficult for families to access face-to-face antenatal and postnatal counselling. In addition, some hospitals have implemented very strict protocols that make it difficult to establish successful breastfeeding.”
Dr. Sharon Haramati also explained the impact of the pandemic on services. “For a first-time parent, this period became even more alone and overwhelming, and for families with other children isolated at home, the time after birth with a new baby became even more hectic. Gradually some of these services re-emerged to a certain extent, mostly remotely through Zoom and telemedicine platforms.”
Karen Hanson told the further impact this had on those trying to conceive. “The closure of fertility clinics during the Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the fertility community. For many, this delayed opportunity to become a parent added much stress to what is already one of the most challenging experiences in life.”
“As well as restricted access to fertility treatments the pandemic also led to a reduction in the availability of essential services and support. Many had to anxiously attend appointments alone, leaving partners feeling left out of the process.”
How is FemTech Supporting Parents
Karen went onto describe that, “The Fertility Circle app is like your best friend with all the fertility smarts. Invaluable resources, emotional support, top fertility experts and a like-minded community are all easily accessible 24 hours a day.”
The majority of our experts mentioned that the FemTech products they had developed were key in providing a community to parents. As Karen Hanson said about Fertility Circle, the support tool she cofounded, “Without emotional support trying to conceive can feel like a very lonely uphill struggle. We believe strongly in the power of an empathetic community to bring comfort, reassurance and hope in the darkest of times.”
Maria Berruezo also described the impact the pandemic had on the motherhood community. She said, “before the pandemic, there were some local breastfeeding support groups where mothers could drop in for in-person expert advice, but certainly not in all areas. As mentioned above, access to face-to-face medical visits has also been restricted.”
Maria went onto explain, “there are lactation consultants who offer virtual consultations, but they are expensive and not within reach of all families who need their services.” For Maria, the 100,000 consultations per week which LactApp provides is a step to removing these barriers.
For Sarah Campin, whose wellbeing app for parents is offering calm during this tough period, FemTech has allowed her to create a new kind of community. She explained, “the parenting forums and communities, which although for some are hugely helpful in solving parenting issues or finding new parenting friends, are also often full of judgement and scrutiny. Nourish offers a private, safe, positive and uplifting place that parents can reach for any time and anywhere for support on their own terms.”
All of our experts raised the issue of inaccurate information being spread during Covid-19. Karen Hanson summarised the point perfectly when she said, “without face to face support during the pandemic, many people would have been left to turn to Google for answers.”
For Karen, the “endless online searches can leave people feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed and confused. The Fertility Circle app provides reliable, easy to digest articles, videos and content helping to empower people to navigate their options.”
Dr. Ravid Shechter agreed with Sara, explaining “even before the pandemic, new parents faced a whole lot of uncertainty, conflicting information, and insufficient access to quality breastfeeding care.” Highlighting the importance of the product she co-founded, Dr. Ravid said, “without the MyLee, parents rely on social influencers and social network peer support groups, and try to navigate in an ocean of information on google.”
For Sarah Campin, this social media information was not always bad. She went onto say, “there is a growing community of wellbeing experts offering individual services and support online and through social media, as well as a growing number of magazines and podcasts not only talking about the struggles of motherhood but also offering tips and tools to navigate them.”
However, Sarah also took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of Nourish App in relation to this media, “these don’t offer parents easy, on-demand access to bite-sized, practical tools (e.g. guided meditations and breathing exercises) to help them de-stress, navigate big emotions, find their calm, or (the holy grail) sleep from their smartphone.”
Maria Berruezo highlighted the importance of LactApp in actually providing information on underreported topics. She said, “the lack of information was extreme and in relation to breastfeeding, even more so. From LactApp we were up to date with everything that was being published on this topic and in March we already had a specific section on Covid and breastfeeding available in our app, which answered the main questions of mothers and we had our chat channel open so they could talk directly with our team of experts.”
By providing parenting-focused safe spaces during the pandemic FemTech has become a haven for mother, fathers and those trying to conceive who have felt overwhelmed by the pandemic. As Sarah Campin summarised, “with homeschooling, the additional worry, on top of the enormous invisible load of the modern mother, and trying to hold down a job, many working mothers (and fathers!) have been at breaking point.”