SPOKANE – A new study conducted by Washington State University’s science program suggests COVID-19 has created new problems for pregnant women locally and across the U.S. The study was recently published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.
One of the biggest concerns among women is their baby contracting the virus. Reportedly, some women expressed fears that simply going to the hospital to deliver would cause them to catch the disease and then be forced to isolate from their newborn.
“Pregnant women are really stressed about contracting COVID-19,” said lead author Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, vice chancellor for research at WSU Health Sciences Spokane. “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.”
In addition to catching the illness, the researchers say the pandemic increased pregnant women’s financial worries, made finding healthy food difficult, and caused them to miss prenatal appointments. The study revealed even greater levels of stress and lack of social support among women of color and low-income pregnant women, highlighting an increase in health disparities that already existed prior to the pandemic.
“We know that prenatal stress impacts fetal development, so these are really big concerns,” Barbosa-Leiker said.
As to how the study was conducted, WSU’s research team analyzed survey responses from more than 160 pregnant and post-partum women from April 28 to June 30, 2020.
In the study, 52% of pregnant women and 49% of postpartum women worried about their babies contracting COVID-19, and 46% had sought extra information about COVID-19 protocols from the hospital where they had planned to deliver, or had delivered, their babies.
In the qualitative portion of the survey, women reported many serious concerns. For example, a participant noted that their main concern during the pandemic was contracting COVID-19 and dying. Others worried about contracting the virus in the hospital when they delivered and that COVID-19 policies would force them to isolate from their newborn or keep their partners out of the birthing room. Barbosa-Leiker said hospitals had varying policies especially at the beginning of stay at home measures though the recommendation now is to keep babies and mothers together.
During the survey period, 27% of pregnant women reported an inability to obtain healthy food and 25% had missed prenatal appointments. Finances also emerged as a substantial issue: 19% reported having their income reduced; 9% had been laid off and another 10% reported that someone in their household had lost their job.
Within the survey sample, the pregnant women appeared to be more stressed than post-partum women who had already delivered, as they were less likely to engage in healthy stress-coping behaviors, such as exercising, taking breaks from the news and making time to relax.