When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) first emerged in December 2019, it caused widespread panic as the number of infections continued to grow. By March, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Since then, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, has spread to 191 countries and territories. To date, it has infected more than 78.19 million people and killed over 1.72 million.
The infection mostly affects the elderly and those with comorbidities. Though pregnant women are less likely to develop severe illness when infected, the pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health.
A new study by researchers at the Department of Women and Children’s Health at Uppsala University, Sweden, aimed to determine the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women's mental health and well-being.
The study, published on the pre-print medRxiv* server, found that during the first months of the pandemic, depressive symptoms increased among pregnant women.
Pregnancy and COVID-19
Though there is limited information on the risk of COVID-19 for pregnant women, they are not considered at high risk of severe infection. However, pregnant women have been faced with anxiety and depressive symptoms since the beginning of the pandemic, recent studies have shown.
Some of the factors that underlie these associations include the worry for the baby's health, worry for the pandemic situation, grief for the victims, economic problems, misinformation, social isolation, travel restrictions, and concern about receiving healthcare services as planned.
In pregnancy, depressive and anxiety symptoms may heighten the risk of postpartum depression, impacting the mother and the baby.
The study researchers wanted to determine the pandemic's impacts, including the lockdown orders, on pregnant women. The team used the Mom2B cohort, a national ongoing mobile application-based mother cohort, introduced in November 2019.
All women in Sweden who owned a smartphone, were above 18, and who were pregnant or had given birth within three months were eligible to participate. By the end of October 2020, 1,608 women were enrolled in the study.
The women filled out self-reported screeners of depression, anxiety, and well-being. In March 2020, questions about COVID-19 symptoms and effects on life and health care were included. The phone’s GPS sensor tracked movement data, while mood scores were compared with the months of 2020.
What the study found
The study findings showed that the highest depression and anxiety levels were found in April and October 2020. Well-being scores were highest in January, June, and August of the same year. By March, the google searches regarding COVID-19 peaked.
The symptoms of anxiety and depression were higher among those feeling socially-isolated, but not for those who were infected or with a family member who were sick with COVID-19.
The most common reasons for stress and anxiety during the pandemic include canceled healthcare appointments and the women’s worry about their partners being absent during the delivery.
“Levels of perinatal affective symptoms and low well-being were elevated compared with previous years as well as with months with fewer cases of SARS-Cov-2,” the team explained in the study.
Using this type of application can help pregnant women and other people who are affected by the pandemic. The Mom2B application paved the way to gather data at a national level in real-time, as the pandemic continues to evolve.
Similar applications can help clinicians, healthcare providers, and governments to track and monitor high-risk groups during global health crises. This way, health systems can tailor and adjust measures and the support offered.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.
- Fransson, E., Karalexi, M., Kimmel, M., Brann, E., Kollia, N. et al. (2020). Mental health among pregnant women during the pandemic in Sweden, a mixed methods approach using data from the Mom2B mobile application for research. medRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.18.20248466, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.12.18.20248466v1