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WSU study finds pandemic has increased stress for pregnant women in America

Pregnant women in the U.S. already face the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. One of their biggest concerns is their baby catching the disease.
Credit: Getty Images

SPOKANE, Wash. — The coronavirus pandemic has created new stress for pregnant women in the United States, according to a Washington State University study. Before the pandemic, American women already had a the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

According to the study, some women expressed that simply going to the hospital to give birth would expose them to the virus. They worried that would force them to isolate from their newborn or that their partners wouldn't be allowed in the delivery room.

One of the biggest concerns found in the study was fear of their baby contracting the virus. Death from the virus was also a concern for the expectant mothers.

"Pregnant women are really stressed about contracting COVID-19,” Vice Chancellor for Research at WSU Health Sciences Spokane Celestina Barbosa-Leiker said. “They have a lot of questions for their health care providers. There's a lot of we don't know yet, which is understandable, but it’s especially stressful for the moms.”

The study, which was published on March 1, 2021, also found the pandemic caused pregnant women to miss prenatal appointments. The study found these missed appointments were a result of financial worries which also made finding healthy food difficult.

WSU researchers analyzed survey responses from more than 160 pregnant and post-partum women.

In the study, 52% of pregnant women responded that they were worried about their babies contracting COVID-19. Of the postpartum women surveyed, 49% gave the same response.

During the survey period, 27% of pregnant women said they were unable to get healthy food and a quarter of them said they had missed prenatal appointments.

The study also found that 19% of pregnant women reported having their income reduced, 9% had been laid off and another 10% reported that someone in their household had lost their job.

“We know that prenatal stress impacts fetal development, so these are really big concerns,” Barbosa-Leiker said.

Barbosa-Leiker told KREM women of color who participated in the WSU study reported less social support and more serious financial problems compared to non-Hispanic White women.

Women with lower incomes were less likely to engage in healthy stress-coping activities compared to women with higher incomes. Stress-coping behaviors include taking care of their bodies and connecting with others.

"While we didn’t directly test the link between financial problems and lack of access to healthy foods, I think there is relationship there," Barbosa-Leiker said. "Our participants also shared that early on in the pandemic, store shelves were empty, so that could also play into lack of access to healthy foods."

The survey found pregnant women appeared more stressed than post-partum women. This could be because they are less likely to engage in stress-coping activities like exercising and taking time to relax.

American women already face the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world before the coronavirus pandemic. A report from nine maternal mortality review committees found that social and environmental stressors contribute to their risk of dying.

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