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Covid-19 can worsen mental health in pregnancy: a global study raises alarm

Covid-19 related restrictions and their adverse impact on physical and mental health are no secret. However, its impact is even more on vulnerable groups like pregnant women.

Some women are more likely to experience negative emotions during pregnancy, causing anxiety and even depression. These maternal mental health issues, if unresolved, may have a negative impact on pregnancy outcomes. Pregnancy is already a risk factor for emotional disorders, which is being made worse by a prolonged covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 is having a disruptive effect on many facets of life. Quarantine physical distancing has all negatively affected sleep patterns, eating habits, and physical activity levels. It also means reduced social interactions, which is vital for pregnant women at times.

It is well known that diet, sleep, and exercise are essential for physical and mental health in pregnancy. In addition, higher levels of physical activity and consistent sleep may positively impact mental health in pregnancy.

Covid-19 has affected almost all domains of life. Thus, low physical activity has caused an increase in weight gain and emotional disorders even in the general population.

Understanding the impact of covid-19 restrictions on the mental health of pregnant women is vital since most of these risk factors are modifiable. It means that identifying what factors are more likely to harm mental health in pregnancy may help modify those stressors.

Covid-19 can worsen mental health in pregnancy

The new global studies identified certain factors causing considerable mental distress in pregnancy

The new global study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, was done on pregnant women from 12 nations. It was a massive survey by all means, as it included 3696 respondents. The study was carried out using online questionnaires answered by pregnant women from various backgrounds.

These were questionnaires intended to measure the impact of covid-19 on health behavior, like the impact of covid-19 on fitness, sleep, diet. Another area of focus was mental health distress.

The study found that almost one-third of women reported mental distress, which is much higher than usual. In the pre-covid era, that would have rarely exceeded ten or twenty percent. Another 30-45% of women reported changes in health behavior across diet, fitness, and sleep.

It would be correct to say that almost twice more women reported distress during covid-19 when compared to the pre-covid era. Although these are just a report of distress and not a diagnosis of some severe mental health issues or emotional disorders, they show significantly elevated risk.

The survey shows that there is undoubtedly a need for increasing awareness among medical practitioners and pregnant women about these risk factors.

The study also found that a significant role in this increased mental health distress was played by changes in health behavior caused by covid-19. Changes in sleep pattern, diet, and fitness/physical activity were significant contributors to these increased stress levels.

Another negative factor was increased loneliness, which may be explained by increased social distancing and less interaction with loved ones.

However, there were some positive findings, too. For example, the study found an increased sense of satisfaction from helping others (gratitude), which boosted the feeling of community in pregnant women.

Covid-19 can worsen mental health in pregnancy - a global study raises alarm

Are the findings from this study reliable?

There is a strong reason to believe that the findings of this study are pretty reliable. It is because these findings are consistent with results from similar surveys. In fact, they are even on the slightly lower side, as some other studies suggest that risk may be even higher.

Just take an example of a Belgian study that was done in both pregnant and breastfeeding women. It had 5866 participants. Among them, 2421 were pregnant women and 3445 breastfeeding women. This study used the better-known scales for measuring anxiety and depression in both pregnant and postpartum women.

The study found that almost one-fourth of pregnant and postpartum women reported signs of major depressive symptoms. At the same time, the prevalence of anxiety was almost close to 40%, with 14% meeting the criteria of severe anxiety.

Thus, the global study findings regarding mental health issues in pregnancy made worse by covid-19 should be taken will all seriousness.

Additionally, covid-19 also increases the risk for postpartum emotional disorders. Postpartum depression or a severe anxiety disorder can have grave consequences for maternal and child health. Moreover, managing postpartum depression or severe anxiety is quite challenging even for well-trained specialists.

mental health in pregnancy during covid-19

What can we learn from the study?

The study found three significant changes in health behavior causing mental distress: diet, sleep, and fitness. Thus, these three areas should be the focus of improvement.

Thus, particular attention should be paid to dietary improvements. In addition, sleep quality can be enhanced by practicing mindfulness and improving sleep hygiene. Therefore, one should regularize the sleeping times and get rid of distracting factors like gadgets or other factors affecting sleep.

Additionally, one should focus on improving physical fitness. Therefore, one may need to pay greater attention to indoor exercises and other fitness programs not requiring visiting specialized places.

When it comes to overcoming loneliness, that might be a bit more challenging. However, it is always a good idea not to wait for others to reach out to you. Instead, be proactive and start using various means of staying connected with friends and close ones. One may put technology to use; thus, texting and video calls could be options.

It is vital to understand that one size does not fit all. There is no single recommendation that may work in all the cases. Thus, it is vital to know the domains of life (diet, sleep, fitness, and loneliness) that contribute to greater mental stress in pregnancy. However, every pregnant woman would need to find ways to overcome these issues.

Medical practitioners and family members also need to understand these issues and risk factors as they can help considerably by playing their roles more effectively.


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All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.


This website was formerly Merrion Fetal Health. The clinic has undergone a rebrand and is now known as Merrion Ultrasound.