COVID has put significant stress on pregnant women, according to a study published Tuesday. It shows nearly 70% of women have grappled with at least moderate levels of distress during the pandemic, and 20% have experienced symptoms of depression.
The research offers more evidence of just how distressing the coronavirus pandemic has been for moms — and the continued need to better support pregnant women as it drags on.
“The high levels of distress highlight the importance of considering mental health centrally in supports for this population,” study author Dr. Tali Bogler, a family physician and chair of family medicine obstetrics at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, said in a statement. Her team’s findings were published in the journal Canadian Family Physician.
Having to do it all alone is one of pregnant moms’ biggest concerns
The authors polled nearly 1,500 women in Canada who were pregnant during the pandemic by giving them a list of COVID-related pregnancy issues and asking them what, if anything, they were worried about.
The top concerns were hospital policies around who was able to be in the room with them during labor, not being able to introduce their new baby to friends and family, getting sick with COVID-19 during pregnancy, not being able to reach out to family and friends for help during the grueling postpartum period, and conflicting information about COVID during pregnancy and newborns — particularly earlier in the pandemic.
The researchers did find some differences in what first-time parents and second- or third-time parents were worried about. New parents were especially concerned about prenatal classes and hospital tours being canceled, while parents who already had children at home were worried about the possibility of those children transmitting COVID to their baby.
One major limitation of the new study is that there isn’t a survey conducted pre-pandemic with a similar group of women that the authors were able to compare their findings with. The researchers did point to pre-pandemic surveys in Japan that put levels of distress among pregnant women at more like 30% ― not 70%.
Other studies from around the world also have also shown just how emotionally taxing the pandemic has been for pregnant women. A California-based survey found that women’s risk of depression during pregnancy essentially doubled amid COVID. Research from Italy suggests that the number of pregnant women grappling with “abnormal” levels of anxiety also doubled.
Getting pregnant women the support they need
Of course, pregnancy and the postpartum period can be stressful and emotionally exhausting, even in the best of times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 8 women typically struggle with postpartum depression, though many believe that underestimates the problem.
Over the past 18 months, pregnant women have faced unique stressors, including changing hospital policies and unprecedented levels of isolation during pregnancy and after.
Still, the researchers say there’s plenty that can be done to help right now. Doctors and midwives can check on their patients more often through video visits, and can do a better job of disseminating evidence-based information via social media. They must continue to be really vigilant about checking in ― not just on how women’s pregnancies are progressing, but how they’re doing emotionally during pregnancy and after.
Friends and family can help, too. One expert previously told HuffPost that it is important to simply validate how difficult this experience is for pregnant women, and that they might be stuck in an “anxiety loop.” Ask open-ended questions about how women are doing, and offer practical support by sending care packages and food — particularly in the postpartum period, when many women might be reluctant to allow visits from others.
“Many parents report that people reach out within the first six weeks when they themselves are running on adrenaline and the thrill of novelty,” one expert previously told HuffPost. But “there is often a precipitous drop-off afterwards.”
As the pandemic wears on, however, moms need support not only during pregnancy, but in the months after — more so than ever.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.