Pregnant women’s risk of depression nearly doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic

Women’s risk for depression during pregnancy doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Depression during pregnancy can cause problems for your baby, like premature birth. Pregnant women may be especially susceptible to adverse events related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new study by the Stanford University now has suggested that pregnant women’s risk of depression nearly doubled after the pandemic struck. It urges policymakers and clinicians to offer additional support for women who were pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scientists inspected the latent structure of stress and adversity identified with the COVID-19 pandemic among pregnant women, likely forerunners of COVID-19-related stress and difficulty in this populace, and relationship with prenatal depressive symptoms.

A total of 725 pregnant women residing in the San Francisco Bay Area were surveyed in the study during March-May 2020. In the pre-pandemic group, one in four women showed signs of possible depression. In the post-pandemic group, that figure jumped to more than half of the women surveyed.

Lead author Lucy King, a graduate student in the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect and Psychopathology Laboratory (SNAP Lab), said, “Going into this study, we naturally expected that pregnant women would have more difficulty after the pandemic started. Nevertheless, we were quite surprised at how much higher the rates of potential depression turned out to be in the pandemic-affected group.”

Senior author and SNAP Lab Director Ian Gotlib, the David Starr Jordan Professor at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, emphasized that “the adverse effects of maternal stress on infants are a form of collateral damage caused by COVID-19, impacting those whom the virus never actually infected.”

“Because depression in pregnancy may affect the developing fetus as well as the relationship between the mother and the infant after birth, these effects are unlikely to cease when the pandemic ends.”

King said, “From the perspective of public policy, the findings support broad-based screenings to identify pregnant women at risk of depression. These women and their infants could benefit from counseling, improved access to available resources, and other interventions. These forms of assistance could help women partially recover from the current pandemic and – looking ahead – better cope in a similar kind of stressful environment imposed by possible disease outbreaks.”

Significantly, the study found that the women most vulnerable to depressive symptoms during the pandemic were already experiencing challenges due to socioeconomic inequality and women with pre-existing poor physical health and histories of mental disorders.

King said, “Those findings indicate there may be specific groups of women who should be targeted to receive special attention in terms of support.”

Gotlib said“Studies like this help highlight pregnancy in particular as a critical period to make sure women have support. That support is not just to get women through their pregnancy, but to help with their future health and the health and development of their children.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Lucy S King et al. Pregnancy during the pandemic: the impact of COVID-19-related stress on risk for prenatal depression. DOI: 10.1017/S003329172100132X
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