What This Means For You
“Periods of extreme maternal distress have been linked to effects on the development of the child across the lifespan,” Mortazavi adds. Experts say policy changes and mental health screens can potentially help alleviate some of these issues.
If you or someone you know in the pre-, peri-, or postnatal period is experiencing high stress, talk to a healthcare provider immediately about ways to manage and alleviate the stress. You can find online support groups here.
“A lot of women had really significant distress, whether you think about it as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or loneliness,” study author Karestan Koenen, PhD, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “In many cases, a range from 40 to 50% of women reporting significant distress.”
In a worldwide survey, pregnant and postpartum women reported high levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study was published in the PLOS One journal in late April.
Similarly, Forough Mortazavi, PhD, professor of reproductive health at the Sabzevar University of Medical Sciences in Iran, saw pregnant women coping in a number of ways through her own research. “During the first few weeks, some women did not leave the house for a month, and some would not even let the husband go to work,” she tells Verywell.
Having a baby comes with its fair share of stress. And more than a hundred million babies have been born around the world since COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic. So researchers wanted to know: How are pregnant and postpartum individuals fairing mentally during this stressful time?
Of the almost 7,000 participants, most (86%) reported being somewhat or very worried about COVID-19. Many also scored at or above the cut-offs for:
Elevated post-traumatic stress (43%)
Participants recorded information such as demographics, COVID-19 exposure, and worries, as well as their information-seeking behavior (like reading or watching the news), COVID-19 prevention behaviors, and loneliness. To measure any mental health symptoms, researchers also incorporated scales used to diagnose post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression disorders.
The researchers from Harvard advertised their anonymous survey for pregnant and postpartum individuals on social media and online parenting forums between May 26, 2020, and June 13, 2020. The survey, available in 12 languages, reached 6,894 women in 64 countries, including all continents except Antarctica.
Increased Mental Health Strain
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