Women are more likely to suffer from post-natal depression during coronavirus pandemic, new research suggests

Is the coronavirus crisis impacting the mental health of new mums? (Getty Images)
Is the coronavirus crisis impacting the mental health of new mums? (Getty Images)

New mums are much more likely to suffer from post-natal depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new study has suggested.

Researchers revealed that the number of women suffering from the condition have soared with up to three in four pregnant women or those who have recently given birth suffering with anxiety during the pandemic.

That compares to less than one in three suffering beforehand.

And more than four out of 10 (41%) have suffered with depression, almost treble the pre-pandemic rate of 15%.

Pregnant women and those who have recently given birth are already at a greater risk of depression and anxiety, with around one in seven struggling with symptoms just after having a baby.

Read more: Women who have winter babies are more likely to develop postnatal depression, here's how to combat it

But a study, published in the journal Frontiers in Global Women's Health, found that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated those struggles.

Researchers found that the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety has “substantially increased” during the global health crisis.

“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,” explains study co-author Dr. Margie Davenport, of the University of Alberta in Canada.

“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.”

New mums are 'much more likely to suffer from post-natal depression amid virus pandemic'(Getty Images)
New mums are 'much more likely to suffer from post-natal depression amid virus pandemic'(Getty Images)

Read more: The impact coronavirus lockdown could be having on new parents' wellbeing

Dr Davenport says effects can include premature delivery, reduced mother-baby 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 12 months, and asked about their depression and anxiety symptoms before and during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic began, 29% of the women experienced moderate to high anxiety symptoms, and 15% experienced depressive symptoms.

However, during the pandemic, those numbers spiked with almost three in four (72%) experiencing anxiety while 41% suffered depression.

Annie Belasco, from PANDAS Foundation says that while COVID-19 and lockdown does not “cause” PND, the circumstances and stress's around this could certainly contribute, relationship challenges, financial worries and not having time or a break away from the parents child can induce and also create depression and increased symptoms and signs of PND.

“We know that parents who have a diagnosis are particularly vulnerable during this time as their 'normal coping mechanisms' day to day are not able to take place,” she explains.

“Sleep deprivation, due to not having a break through the night or the day, physically and practical help and also socialising and meeting other parents to share experiences.

“Disturbance of routine, anxiety around the political and economical state have also contributed to parents with or without a diagnosis of perinatal mental illness that can create heightened anxiety and stress which can also magnify depression and low mood,” she adds.

What are the signs of PND?

According to Wendy Powell, maternal health expert and founder of MUTU System, PND signs can range from low energy, anxiety, irritability and changes in sleeping or eating patterns.

PANDAS says symptoms of PND can include but are not exhaustive of:

  • Struggling to bond with baby

  • Feelings of worthlessness and lack of self esteem

  • Persistent feelings of anxiety and very low mood

  • Wanting to self isolate and not socialise

  • Excessive dark and frightening thoughts

  • Lack of appetite or over eating

Mums are suffering from depression and anxiety during coronavirus crisis. (Getty Images)
Mums are suffering from depression and anxiety during coronavirus crisis. (Getty Images)

What can new parents do to protect their mental health during the coronavirus crisis?

Create healthy boundaries

“We are so reliant on social media and its important to control what you are being put in front of,” explains Belasco. “Positive, motivational and comparison free social media sites would be advised to anyone who is experiencing perinatal mental illness as a risk to induce anxiety and depression.”

Establish a new routine

For you and your baby. Belasco says it is important to ensure that you have a list of aims that you can tick off throughout the day, without putting too much pressure on yourself to ‘keep up’ or get everything done.

Find a support network

According to Powell it can really help to surround yourself by a reliable support network. “This can help you to feel as though you have somebody who will always listen to you without passing judgement, give you reliable guidance and have your best interests at heart,” she explains.

“It’s so important that you arrange frequent discussions with peers and likeminded women who know exactly how you feel, even virtually, to keep in regular discussion.”

Stay connected

Powell suggests new mums should try to stay connected with those they are closest with, such as the child’s grandparents and close friends. “You can arrange weekly/fortnightly calls at a certain time or create a WhatsApp group to regularly feed in updates and pictures of your newborn with a small group of friends and family,” she says. “Above all else, it’s important to make sure you are always talking about your wellbeing and to get everything out there in the open.”

Practice self care

This is a small but significant change that can be implemented easily. “Remember to consider yourself throughout the day and where possible take some time, to do one thing that makes you feel good,” advises Belasco. “Nice food, a bath, relaxing, writing and reading it can be the smallest thing but can make a huge difference to your wellbeing.”

Ask for help

Although practical/physical support is unlikely, PANDAS foundation offer a safe go to for support for all parents from conception through to birth and beyond.

“Through our four free support channels. Opening up and talking to just one person who you feel safe and confident in being heard without judgment can raise spirits in the short and longer term,” adds Belasco.

For more information about PND visit PANDAS or call the FREE helpline Monday - Sunday 08081961776 11am- 10pm free from uk landlines and uk mobiles

Additional reporting SWNS.