FRIDAY, April 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Depression and other mental health problems have become much more common among pregnant women and new mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic, an international study finds.
Researchers noted that mental health issues can harm not only a woman's own health but also affect mother-infant bonding and children's health over time.
"We expected to see an increase in the proportion of pregnant and postpartum women reporting mental health distress, as they are likely to be worried or have questions about their babies' health and development, in addition to their own or their family's health," said senior author Karestan Koenen. She is a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
"However, the number of women who had significantly elevated symptoms was much larger than what had previously been published during the pandemic," Koenen said in a Harvard news release.
Her team conducted an anonymous online survey of nearly 6,900 women in 64 countries May 26-June 13, 2020.
Large percentages of women scored at or above cutoffs in widely used psychological screening tools for elevated levels of anxiety/depression (31%); loneliness (53%), and post-traumatic stress in relation to COVID-19 (43%). Only 2% had been diagnosed with COVID and 7% had contact with someone with the virus.
Koenen and her colleagues said those levels of mental health problems were much higher than those previously found in the general population during the pandemic or among pregnant women and new moms before the pandemic.
Certain factors seemed to make matters worse, the researchers reported.
Looking for information about the pandemic five or more times a day from any source (social media, news or word-of-mouth) more than doubled the risk of elevated post-traumatic stress in relation to COVID as well as anxiety and depression.
Concerns about children and child care, as well as economic worries were also significant, the study found.
The findings show the need for ways to reduce the impact of pandemic-related stress on pregnant women and new mothers, according to first author Archana Basu, a Chan School research scientist.
"In addition to screening and monitoring mental health symptoms, addressing potentially modifiable factors such as excessive information seeking and women's worries about access to medical care and their children's well-being, and developing strategies to target loneliness, such as online support groups, should be part of intervention efforts for perinatal women," Basu said in the release.
The findings were published online April 21 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on pregnancy and COVID-19.
SOURCE: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, news release, April 21, 2021