Depression Among Pregnant Women Spiked at the Onset of the Pandemic

Even in ordinary times, depression is a common problem for pregnant women and new mothers. Now, a new Stanford University-led study examining the extraordinary times of the COVID-19 era has found that pregnant women’s risk of depression nearly doubled after the pandemic struck. This is important because earlier research has shown that depressive symptoms during pregnancy adversely affect not only the health of the mother but also that of their developing fetus and future infant.

For the study, Stanford researchers assessed pregnant women both before and after coronavirus-triggered lockdowns took effect in March 2020. In the pre-pandemic group, one in four women showed signs of possible depression. In the post-pandemic group, that figure jumped to more than half of the women surveyed.

“Going into this study, we naturally expected that pregnant women would have more difficulty after the pandemic started,” said lead author Lucy King, a graduate student in the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect and Psychopathology Laboratory. “Nevertheless, we were quite surprised at how much higher the rates of potential depression turned out to be in the pandemic-affected group.”

From the perspective of public policy, the findings support broad-based screenings to identify pregnant women at risk of depression, King says. These women and their infants could then benefit from counseling, improved access to available resources, and other interventions. These forms of assistance could help women partially recover from the current pandemic, and – looking ahead – better cope in a similar kind of stressful environment imposed by possible disease outbreaks.

The full study, “Pregnancy During the Pandemic: The Impact of COVID-19-Related Stress on Risk for Prenatal Depression,” was published on the website of the journal Psychological Medicine. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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