Women's College Hospital developing virtual support for new mothers
TORONTO -- At the start of the pandemic, Heather Eldebs had been working with her doctor towards weaning herself off her depression medication.
“We kind of looked at this whole adjustment we were having. Being at home, managing the schooling and having my son home, and she and I decided it probably wasn't the right time so we’d wait until things stabilized,” Eldebs told CTV News Toronto.
Like many parents during the pandemic, Eldebs struggled with working from home, parenting a four year old and 1 year old, while also home schooling them. And she missed the social supports she had had in the past.
“Playdates, mommy groups, you know just going over to friends for dinner while the other kids play and you have adult time.”
Dr. Simone Vigod, Chief of Psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital, echoes her sentiments saying gathering with family, friends and even home visits from a public health nurse, all supported the mental health of new moms. Now she’s helping to create virtual supports to fill the gaps.
For example, the decision whether to continue medications for depression during pregnancy is one faced by tens of thousands of women in Canada each year.
“There are many types of conditions, chronic conditions where people have to take medication during pregnancy and you can never say anything is zero risk during pregnancy,” Vigod said.
But an online tool to help women at risk of depression weigh the many factors involved in using medication is proving to be very successful.
“In our clinic, the tool performed just as well as a psychiatrist in terms of women reducing their decisional conflict,” Vigod said.
Their next step will be to follow these women and study if easing their minds during the decision-making will improve outcomes with their babies.
Another support they’re developing is a form of group therapy. Women’s College has been using a secure electronic medical record system called EPIC for one-on-one doctor-patient appointments. They’ve now created a secure Zoom style set-up for new moms, one of the first in North America.
Eldebs said group discussions have been a vital coping tool for her, especially with other mothers who have also experienced depression. She’s continuing those and says sharing her story has helped others deal with their struggles.
And she urges mothers who are having difficulty during the pandemic to reach out for professional help, saying “The one thing I never believed at the time was this will get better But it has.”