Pregnancy is stressful for most women at the best of times. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown of many countries has the potential to exacerbate the anxiety of pregnant women.
Researchers from the University of Sydney and Fudan University in China, surveyed 1,800 pregnant women from 22 provinces in China in February during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey found almost 90 percent of expectant mothers experienced some form of mental health problems - including stress, anxiety or depression. This was caused by concerns around the pandemic, state-enforced restrictions on movement and reduced access to antenatal services.
It is vital we reassure and support pregnant women during this pandemic.
Pregnant women who had access to antenatal care information from official social media accounts set up by their hospital had significantly lower risk of suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.
More than 75 percent of respondents reported having accessed antenatal health care information on the hospitals’ official WeChat and Weibo social media accounts, and 60 percent of women reported these were their preferred channels to access information.
“We are living through really challenging and stressful times, this is compounded for expectant mothers who are understandably concerned about their own wellbeing and that of their unborn children. Our research shows we can reduce the levels of anxiety, stress and depression in expectant mothers if we connect with them through social media and give them a trusted source of information for their antenatal care,” Professor Mu Li from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney said.
“It is vital we reassure and support pregnant women during this pandemic. Developing specific content for pregnant women on how to cope during this pandemic via social media platforms could be an effective way to mitigate mental health disorders in epidemic preparedness and responses.”
The study also found other forms of communication - including phone hotlines, mobile phone text messages and advice from family and friends - were not as effective in lowering levels of stress and anxiety for pregnant women. Conversely, women who obtained antenatal care information from friends and family members appeared to have higher risk of depression.
“The benefit of access to antenatal care through social media accounts is women have greater flexibility and control over when they access this information,” Professor Li said.
There is currently very limited information on the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women. A recent study published in Lancet found that pregnant women infected with COVID-19 showed no evidence of vertical transmission from mother to child.
The research is published in World Health Organisation bulletin.