• The lockdown has kept new mothers from families and friends, contrary to tradition
• This compounds the stress they already have from fear of contracting the coronavirus
When the first case of Covid-19 was recorded in Kenya on March 13, Chari Suche, a journalist, was eight months pregnant.
Anxiety and fear of the unknown gripped her and her husband.
“I had planned to travel to Kwale, where I would deliver with the assistance of my mother," she said.
"But then I realised I could not travel since I would be putting myself and my unborn child at risk of getting infected."
Suche had to make a hard decision of giving birth in Nairobi, 500km from her home, among her extended family and husband, which is contrary to their traditions.
“When a woman delivers, she should be around her family, especially mother, who will nurse her until when she heals. But Covid-19 denied me that opportunity,” she said.
Suche and her husband had to hire a gynaecologist who would monitor her progress closely since she had a delicate pregnancy, especially during the last trimester.
Then came curfew and Suche's worries shifted from getting infected with Covid-19 to going into labour beyond curfew hours.
The stress of the entire situation resulted in an overdue pregnancy, meaning she went past her due date and the labour seemed not to be anywhere near.
She would feel the contractions but they were not progressing, and after consultations with her doctor, the couple decided she had to undergo a caesarean section.
In the operation, things were normal, with the doctors wearing masks while she was put on inhalers to help her breath.
“But even then, what ran in my mind was if my baby would be fine or would he be infected while being attended to? These are worries for any mother who has delivered or is about to deliver during this crisis,” she said.
Suche said being under the care of experienced doctors, she was able to deliver well and later left the hospital with her baby without any complications or infection, contrary to her worries.
In the African set-up, a baby is warmly welcomed by family and friends by visiting the new mother and keeping her company.
The presence of family members and friends is also to ease the burden of the new mother of taking care of the baby and reliving her anytime she needs to take a rest.
But with Covid-19, many mothers have been or will be denied this opportunity and will have to struggle by themselves or with the help of their partners.
Suche was lucky that they had acquired a good house help, who assisted her with the house chores while the husband gave her a helping hand in handling the infant.
But for mothers who lack that basic support, experts warn that it is easy for them to suffer emotional disorder or worse still, sink into postpartum depression.
Dr Muinga Chokwe, a mental health specialist based in Mombasa, said emotional disorder can be identified when the patient is moody, sad and irritable.
“This can happen if the baby is irritable or restless, thus making the new mother emotional or stressed out," he said.
Chokwe said a new parent needs assistance with the baby anytime it is needed and that is why she needs family and friends around her after delivery.
Alternatively, nurses and doctors who deliver her should take a personal initiative to closely follow up their patient while monitoring her situation.