Pregnant women and new mums are three times more likely to suffer from depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, study shows

  • Pregnancy and birth ordinarily puts 1-in-7 at risk of both depression and anxiety 
  • Researchers surveyed 900 expectant or new mothers about their mental health
  • They found that 41 per cent had depression — up from 14 per cent pre-pandemic
  • However, the team recommend exercise to help counter depressive symptoms
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Pregnant women and new mums are three times more likely to suffer from depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, a study has found. 

Cases of perinatal depression have soared, with up to three-in-four new or expectant mothers now suffering with anxiety compared with less than one-in-three before.

Furthermore, 41 per cent are suffering depression — a figure that is almost treble the pre-pandemic rate of 15 per cent.

Pregnant women and those who have recently given birth were already at a greater risk of depression and anxiety — with one in seven struggling with symptoms.

However, numbers have ‘substantially increased’ amid the global health crisis, experts found — who recommend physical exercise to ease the risk.

Pregnant women and new mums are three times more likely to suffer from depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, a study has found. Pictured, a woman with postnatal depression

‘The social and physical isolation measures that are critically needed to reduce the spread of the virus are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of many of us,’ said paper author Margie Davenport, of the University of Alberta in Canada.

For new mothers, however, those stresses come with added side-effects, Dr Davenport explained.

‘We know that experiencing depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period can have detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of both mother and baby that can persist for years,’ she said.

These can include premature delivery, reduced mother-baby bonding and developmental delays in infants.

In their study, Dr Davenport and colleagues surveyed 900 women — 520 of whom were pregnant and 380 of whom had given birth in the past year — asking them about and symptoms of anxiety and depression before and during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic began, 29 per cent of the women experienced symptoms of moderate to high anxiety — and 15 per cent experienced symptoms of depression.

During the pandemic, however, those numbers increased, with 72 per cent of women experiencing anxiety while 41 per cent suffered from depression.

Given that lockdown measures have affected both daily routines and access to gyms, the team also asked the women if their exercise habits had changed.

Of those surveyed, 64 per cent had been getting less physical activity since the pandemic began, while 15 per cent increased and 21 per cent saw no change.

Dr Davenport said that exercise is an established way of easing the symptoms of depression, so restricted physical activity may be contributing to the rise in depressive symptoms.

Cases of perinatal depression have soared, with up to three-in-four new or expectant mothers now suffering with anxiety compared with less than one-in-three before

The study also found that women who got at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week had ‘significantly lower’ apparent levels of depression and anxiety.

While the research was specifically interested in the impact of COVID-19 on new mothers, Dr Davenport said that maternal mental health is a critical issue at any time.

‘Even when we are not in a global pandemic, many pregnant and postpartum women frequently feel isolated — whether due to being hospitalised, not having family or friends around, or other reasons,’ she said.

‘It is critical to increase awareness of the impact of social — and physical — isolation on the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women.’

‘Increased awareness makes diagnosis and treatment — the ultimate goal — more likely.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Global Women’s Health.

WHAT IS POSTNATAL DEPRESSION?

Postnatal depression is a form of the mental-health condition that affects more than one in 10 women in the UK and US within a year of giving birth.

As many men can be affected as women, research suggests.  

Many parents feel down, teary and anxious within the first two weeks of having a child, which is often called the ‘baby blues’.

But if symptoms start later or last longer, they may be suffering from postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression is just as serious as others form of the mental-health disorder. 

Symptoms include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Lack of enjoyment or interest in the wider world
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Struggling to bond with your baby
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Frightening thoughts, such as hurting your baby

Sufferers should not wait for their symptoms to just go away.

Instead they should recognise that it is not their fault they are depressed and it does not make them a bad parent.

If you or your partner may be suffering, talk to your GP or health visitor.

Treatments can include self-help, such as talking to loved ones, resting when you can and making time to do things you enjoy. Therapy may also be prescribed. 

In severe cases where other options have not helped, antidepressants may be recommended. Doctors will prescribe ones that are safe to take while breastfeeding.

Postnatal depression’s cause is unclear, however, it is more common in those with a history of mental-health problems. 

Lack of support from loved ones, a poor relationship with the partner and a life-changing event, such as bereavement, can also raise the risk. 

Source: NHS

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