Dr. UNSW Science’s Susanne Schweizer, along with colleagues in Europe and the United States, collected data on mental health at different times during and after pregnancy in a longitudinal study of 742 pregnant individuals.
Their analysis found that COVID-19-related stress had the greatest impact on pregnant people who tended to worry, feel lonely or have a low tolerance for uncertainty.
A follow-up study, published today in JAMA Network Open, looked at COVID-19-related stress in the postpartum period, 1.5 years after the initial study. The team found that feeling stressed about the pandemic during pregnancy not only had a lasting effect on participants’ own mental health, but was also associated with an increase in negative mood in their babies.
“The Center for Disease Control identifies pregnant women as a vulnerable group in terms of physical health during pandemics and disease outbreaks,” says Dr. Schweizer.
“Based on these findings, and those of others, we should also identify pregnant women as a vulnerable group in terms of mental health.” Factors of Mental Health Vulnerability Importantly, the research team compared the pregnant women participating in the study with and country-matched controls. “So you have someone who is as similar as possible, but who is not pregnant at the time. And we looked at the impact of pandemic stress on their mental health,” says Dr. Schweizer.
Pandemic stress was measured using the Pandemic Anxiety Scale, which measures individuals’ concerns about the pandemic, including concerns about contracting the virus, having enough food and work-related consequences. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19-related stress was associated with more psychological distress in both women who were pregnant and those who were not.
“But not all women were affected equally. There were vulnerability factors, such as lack of social support, increased loneliness, worry and intolerance to uncertainty, that had a greater impact on mental health in the context of pandemic stress in pregnant women.” women, compared to their non-pregnant counterparts,” says Dr. Schweizer.
Effect on infants’ behavior at the last time point, an average of 18 months after the initial assessment, the team performed the same set of measurements on the cohort. are related to the postpartum period, such as thoughts about harm happening to the child or harming a child, and we also measured infants’ mood and behavior. first article, was significantly associated with poor maternal mental health outcomes after childbirth. “What will always best predict your mental health is your mental health at an earlier point in time,” says Dr. Schweizer.
“So I was surprised that pandemic stress during pregnancy had a negative impact on mothers’ depression, anxiety, and anxiety well into the future, even when we controlled for their previous levels of mental well-being.” But not only the mothers were negatively affected. For those stressed out by the pandemic, there was a higher chance of what researchers call “negative affectivity” in their babies. Negative affectivity means that the child is more likely to cry and is less likely to settle down, and is less likely to venture into an unfamiliar situation.
“Negative affectivity is a measure of infant mood. But it is associated with a range of behavioral problems, and more importantly, cognition as well. It is also associated with developmental outcomes throughout life.” mental health is significantly linked to infant behavior, this is one of the first studies to examine the link between pregnancy stress and maternal and child mental health outcomes during the pandemic.
Bringing mental health to the fore Dr. Schweizer herself has experience of being pregnant during the pandemic.
“I was very lucky because I knew I was in a position where I could continue to work, so I didn’t have that economic pressure, but I was a high-risk pregnancy. And then my child was born prematurely,” said Dr. Schweizer.
“That’s an unsettling experience anyway, even under normal circumstances, but it was compounded by the fact that I was separated from my other children. I didn’t get to see my daughter with my husband until much later. And so for me , it was a very direct and personal experience of how this pandemic impacted the peripartum period, she argues that there is an urgent need for more support for the mental health of pregnant people as part of standard pregnancy care.
“Pregnancy is a period of vulnerability to psychological problems. Intense and rapidly changing moods and emotions are a normal part of pregnancy and after birth many people will experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts. But we are not told enough about this. Pregnant persons need information about what to expect, what’s common and when to seek help.” (ANI)