There are reports of mental health worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed to assess whether this occurred in women who were pregnant at baseline (late 2019) and unaware of the pandemic, and who delivered after the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions and threat (March-April 2020). To compare the pandemic period with the pre-pandemic, we capitalized on a retrospective 2014-2015 perinatal sample which had had affective symptoms assessed.
The COVID sample were administered the Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS), Hypomania Checklist-32 (HCL-32), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) at T0 (pregnancy) and T1 (post-delivery). The Non-COVID sample had completed EPDS and HCL-32 at the same timepoints.
The COVID sample included 72 women, aged 21-46 years (mean = 33.25 years ± 4.69), and the Non-COVID sample included 68 perinatal women, aged 21-46 years (mean = 34.01 years ± 4.68). Our study showed greater levels of mild depression in T1 among the COVID sample compared to the Non-COVID sample. No significant differences in terms of major depression and suicidal ideation were found. The levels of hypomania were significantly different between the two groups at T1, with the COVID sample scoring higher than the Non-COVID sample. This may be related to the high levels of perceived stress we found during the postpartum evaluation in the COVID sample.
There was a relatively small sample size.
New mothers responded to the pandemic with less mental health impairment than expected, differently from the general population. Women delivering amidst the pandemic did not differ in depressive and anxiety symptoms from their pre-pandemic scores and from pre-pandemic women. Because stress responses have high energy costs, it is optimal for maternal animals to minimize such high metabolic costs during motherhood. Evidence suggests that reproductive experience alters the female brain in adaptive ways. This maternal brain plasticity facilitates a higher purpose, the continuation of the species. This may point to the recruitment of motherhood-related resources, for potentially overcoming the effects of the pandemic on mental health.