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Depression, anxiety rise among new moms amidst COVID-19 pandemic: Study

TORONTO: The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of depression and anxiety in new moms, according to a study which says one in seven women already struggle with these mental illness symptoms in the perinatal period.

According to the research, published in the journal Frontiers in Global Women's Health, the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety has substantially increased during the pandemic.

"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 Margie Davenport, study co-author from the University of Alberta in Canada.

For new moms, the scientists said, these stresses come with side effects.

"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," Davenport explained.

Such effects, according to the researchers, can include premature delivery, reduced mother-infant bonding, and developmental delays in infants.

The study surveyed 900 women -- 520 of whom were pregnant and 380 of whom had given birth in the past year -- and asked about their depression and anxiety symptoms before and during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic began, the scientists said 29 per cent of those women experienced moderate to high anxiety symptoms, and 15 per cent experienced depressive symptoms.

During the pandemic, these numbers have increased with 72 per cent experiencing anxiety and 41 per cent dealing with depression, the study noted.

Since the lockdown measures have affected daily routines and access to gyms, the scientists also asked women whether their exercise habits have changed.

Of the women surveyed, 64 per cent said they reduced their physical activity since the pandemic began, while 15 per cent reported that they increased and 21 per cent experienced no change.

The researchers believe that limited physical activity may have resulted in an uptick in depressive symptoms.

According to the study, women who engaged in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week had significantly lower symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The scientists cautioned that the findings are limited since they could not survey women before the pandemic began, and the women surveyed could only offer their pre-pandemic symptoms in hindsight.

While the study was specifically interested in the impact of COVID-19 on new moms, Davenport said maternal mental health is a critical issue no matter the time.

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

"It is critical to increase awareness of the impact of social isolation on the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women," Davenport added.

 

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PTI