A new student conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found pregnant and postpartum women reported high levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness and post-traumatic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out of the nearly 7,000 mothers surveyed worldwide, approximately half of the women scored above average for elevated levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness and post-traumatic stress. These levels were significantly higher than mental health distress in the general population during the pandemic and pregnant and postpartum women before the pandemic.

According to the researchers, they expected to see higher levels of distress among mothers during the pandemic.

"We expected to see an increase in the proportion of pregnant and postpartum women reporting mental health distress, as they are likely to be worried or have questions about their babies' health and development, in addition to their own or their family's health. However, the number of women who had significantly elevated symptoms was much larger than what had previously been published during the pandemic," Karestan Koenen, senior study author, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, said

Women who checked information about the pandemic five or more times a day were more than twice as likely to have post-traumatic stress about COVID-19, anxiety or depression.

One researcher on the project suggested public health campaigns and medical care systems should address the impact COVID-19 related stressors can have on pregnant and postpartum women.

"In addition to screening and monitoring mental health symptoms, addressing potentially modifiable factors such as excessive information seeking and women's worries about access to medical care and their children's well-being, and developing strategies to target loneliness, such as online support groups, should be part of intervention efforts for perinatal women," Archana Basu, research scientist of the Department of Epidemiology, said.

Previous research shows mental health problems in pregnant and postpartum women can also impact the infant, mother-infant relationships and the child's development over time.

The study also found most mothers said they frequently washed their hands and wore face masks, but these factors were not associated with anxiety or depression symptoms.