The new study surveyed new and soon-to-be moms
The results have been “shocking.” Pregnant women and new moms have been experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety amid the COVID pandemic, a new study suggests.
Researchers asked 900 women – 530 of whom were expecting and 300 of whom had given birth in the past year – about their depression and anxiety. They found that COVID elevated depression symptoms from 15% to 41%. Moderate to high anxiety symptoms went from 29% to 72%.
Pre-COVID, about one in seven, or just about 15%, of women experienced such symptoms during the prenatal period.
“I was pretty shocked at the magnitude of the increases,” said Margie Davenport, a co-author of the study and associate professor of the pregnancy and postpartum health program at the University of Alberta, Canada.
There’s factors here
Let’s take in the factors first. Physical isolation, increased household and children duties, and fears about the state of the world have all contributed to the higher rates of mental health issues among soon-to-be and brand new mothers.
Davenport suspects the rates are even higher in people who already face healthcare and social disparities.
“I’m worried that this [data] is potentially underestimating the effects on women who’ve lost their jobs, and women who don’t have secure housing and secure healthcare,” she said.
Many of the women surveyed were white, employed, partnered and living in a single-family home. In other words, had the types of support that would typically put them at a lower risk of mental health issues. Davenport fears the effects of the pandemic, and now racial justice issues, on pregnant women and new moms in more marginalized communities may be even worse.
Moms are less in control, more worried
The fact that the pandemic has exacerbated these feelings is no surprise to Wendy Davis, executive director of Postpartum Support International, a nonprofit that connects new moms with resources, therapy, and other forms of support.
“We’ve heard from women and men that their anxiety is really increased, first in response to news of a global pandemic, and second in response to the stressors of social isolation and decreased access to healthcare — on top of anxiety about ‘what’s going to happen to me in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum in this time?'” said Davis, who was not involved in the study.
“I’m feeling less in control, more worried, as new data comes in about infected infants and pregnant women, and more worried about the state of our world and country when the baby is born,” Judson told Insider before her son’s birth in late April.
Now, she said she feels mentally healthy. But not having her parents — or anyone, for that matter — meet her infant is tough, and she continues to worry about sending her older son back to preschool.
Coping strategies aren’t always available during a pandemic
Many of the go-to coping strategies aren’t available to pregnant women and new moms during the crisis. The ones that Davis tends to recommend – like seeing friends and loved ones, planning events to look forward to – are seriously limited.
Plus, many women are taking on even more while pregnant and recovering from childbirth, like caring for older children while schools and camps are closed, attempting to work from home, and doing more housework.
“From what we’ve heard, moms all over the world just almost automatically take on this extra burden” when crises strike, Davis said.
The researchers hope releasing the data will encourage moms to seek help
The current study had limitations, including that it’s based on women’s own recollections of their pre-pandemic mental health. It’s also important to note that only mental-health care professionals can officially diagnose an individual with depression or anxiety.
Another coping mechanism, if possible, is physical activity. The current study found that women who exercised at least 150 minutes a week had significantly lower rates of mental-health symptoms.
She also recommended scheduling time to talk or video chat with friends and loved ones, and seek more organized virtual support. Her organization, for one, helps connect new moms to mental health professionals (nearly all of whom are offering teletherapy these days), virtual support groups, and provides other supports through calls, texts, and more.
Davis also said trying to eat a balanced, healthy diet is key to supporting stable emotions, and suggested new parents consider shifting how they’ve structured their households, if they feel safe doing so. For example, deciding to see one other family exclusively or inviting a parent to live in.
“It could be the healthiest decision to decide to quarantine together,” she said.
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