Pregnancy is already a long journey, and the emergence of COVID-19 has brought along physical and mental burdens to mothers and mothers-to-be. Pregnant people are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing more severe effects of lung and cardiovascular strain. Worries about their health also affect pregnant peoples’ mental states and can further contribute to ill health. This stress is compounded by isolation as many people have had to deliver babies without loved ones around them due to current no visitor policies in hospitals.
The Physical Impact of COVID-19 on Pregnancy
Although research on pregnancy is still far from complete, some trends have been observed.. Firstly, data suggests that pregnancy causes women’s bodies to be more susceptible to severe COVID-19. This is partially due to the coronavirus’ main points of attack being the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, both of which are already under additional stress during pregnancy. As the uterus expands, it presses against the lungs and therefore affects pulmonary function. The higher vulnerability to COVID-19 also stems from pregnancy altering the immune system. According to Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist who studies at the Yale School of Medicine, a pregnant woman’s entire immune system is geared towards not creating any sort of anti-fetal immune response, so “the mother has to compromise her own immune defense in order to preserve the baby’s health.”
In September of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on the birth outcomes of 598 pregnant women confirmed to have COVID-19. They found that pregnant women with COVID-19 were more likely (6 times more likely according to the Public Health Agency of Sweden) to be hospitalized and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit as opposed to their non-pregnant counterparts. Moreover, there was a slight increase in preterm deliveries. Another study found that pregnant women were 70% more likely to need ventilators.
The Mental Effects of the Pandemic on Pregnant Women
In addition to the physical strain of pregnancy, there are several mental stressors on pregnant women during this pandemic. From worrying about their baby’s health to their own wellbeing, people are spread thin juggling the physical and emotional labor of pregnancy.
Working as a medical assistant at a gynecologist’s office over this past year has given me personal insight to the perspectives of pregnant individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. I heard many admissions of distress and anxiety, and the OB-GYN I worked under shared her fair share of saddening stories of what it is like in the operating room. Many hospitals have a limitation of one visitor per patient- meaning that some expecting mothers’ partners must be home to take care of their other children and that there is an absence of the usual flood of friends and family who would shower love upon the new mother and child. As a result of this policy, there are patients who must deliver on their own or with their loved ones through a phone screen. Additionally, the one visitor policy can lead to conflict of who the expecting mother would like as her companion during the delivery. This could be between their partner, a parent/parental figure, a doula (a trained professional who provides the mother with emotional, physical, and mental support before, throughout, and shortly following childbirth), a best friend, etc. Although this rule is extremely useful in the prevention of COVID-19 spread within the hospital, the loneliness and lack of support in labor and delivery are not insignificant issues. These problems and prolonged isolation from quarantining in general most definitely have a negative impact on the mental health of these mothers. Bringing life into this world is usually an event that is filled with lots of joy and loved ones, but the pandemic has transformed it to being a lonely and stressful experience. Studies have proven that after only 50 days of quarantine, pregnant people showed a pronounced “increase in depression, anxiety and negative affect” compared to the non-pregnant people. With a normal pregnancy lasting about 9 months, these emotions are further prolonged and amplified.
During these trying times, it is important to do what we can in order to take care of ourselves but also to help the others around us, especially those at high risk. While this does include the elderly and those that are immunocompromised, a more subtle population that is still at high risk during this pandemic is pregnant people. It is extremely important that pregnant people take care of their bodies, as they are working to provide for themselves as well as another being. In order to stay physically healthy during the pandemic, pregnant people can follow the typical guidelines for pregnancy such as: eating nutritious meals, exercising regularly (staying at home or socially distanced is best), and getting plenty of rest and sleep. To maintain mental and emotional health during these times, it is essential for pregnant people to keep loved ones close (physically or virtually), as they can aid in the navigation of any anxiety, stress, or depression. Also, speaking to a provider about their mental health can be helpful for pregnant people. There are often support groups offered by hospitals, such as Chester County’s Hospital’s Mommy Wellness Network program.
Helpful and links to resources that can be shared by non-pregnant people to aid the expecting mothers in their lives:
- FAQ about nutrition during pregnancy: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
- FAQ about exercise during pregnancy: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy
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