Research reveals elevated mental health problems in pregnant women / women after childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic

In a global study, pregnant women and postpartum women reported high levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness and post-traumatic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. According to the study, such high levels of trouble can have potential implications for women and for the health and development of the fetus and child.

The study will be published online at PLOS ONE April 21, 2021

We expected an increase in the proportion of pregnant women and postpartum women who report mental health disorders, as they are likely to be concerned or have questions about the health and development of their babies, in addition to their own health or the health of their family. However, the number of women who had elevated symptoms was much higher than previously reported during the pandemic. “

Carestan Coenen, senior author of the study, is a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard Chan School

Koenen and her co-authors were interested in pregnant women and women after childbirth, because previous research suggests that perinatal mental health problems can over time negatively affect not only women’s health but also neonatal outcomes, the mother-child bond, and children’s health. To assess the mental health of pregnant women and women after childbirth during a pandemic, researchers conducted an anonymous, online cross-sectional study of women in 64 countries between May 26, 2020 and June 13, 2020. The study, available in 12 languages, was hosted on the Pregistry platform for COVID-19 studies.

Of the 6,894 participants, a significant proportion of women achieved limit values ​​or above them in widely used psychological screening tools for elevated levels of anxiety / depression (31%), loneliness (53%) and post-traumatic stress compared to COVID-19 (43%). , despite the fact that only 117 women (2%) were diagnosed with COVID-19, and 510 (7%) were in contact with someone with COVID-19. Levels of psychiatric distress were significantly higher than previously published data on such distress in the general population during a pandemic and among pregnant women and postpartum women.

Certain factors were associated with poorer mental health among the women surveyed. Seeking pandemic information five or more times a day from any source (e.g., social media, news, or word of mouth) was associated with more than twice the likelihood of increased posttraumatic stress compared to COVID-19 and anxiety / depression. Child care and child care and economic care were also important factors in women’s mental health.

The majority of participants reported participating in COVID-19 preventive behavior (e.g., 93.3% reported hand hygiene practices and 84.5% wore a face mask), but these behaviors were not associated with symptoms of anxiety or depression.

First author Archana Basu, a researcher from the Department of Epidemiology, said the results of the study show that public health campaigns and health care systems should explicitly address the impact of COVID-19-related stressors on the mental health of pregnant women and postpartum women.

“In addition to screening and monitoring mental health symptoms, addressing potentially modified factors such as women’s over-seeking information and care for access to medical care and their children’s well-being, and developing loneliness-focused strategies, such as online support groups, should be part of intervention efforts. for perinatal women, ”Basu said.


Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Journal reference:

Basu, A., and others. (2021. International study of factors related to perinatal mental health and well-being of women during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLOS ONE.