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The normal challenges of being pregnant and giving birth were exacerbated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
secret that the risk related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) increases
with age, making older adults more vulnerable than younger people.
Less examined has been effects on pregnancy and birthing. According to a new study, published in Frontiers of Sociology, led by Sarah DeYoung, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice,
and Michaela Mangum, a master’s student in disaster science and
management, the pandemic caused additional stress for people who were
pregnant or gave birth during the pandemic. The stress was especially
prevalent if the person giving birth perceived that information about
hospital COVID-19 birthing protocols was confusing (such as potential
separation of the infant from the mother).
The data DeYoung and Mangum collected over the summer came from respondents from 34 states.
"Together, these data and results suggest that most respondents
experienced new challenges because of the pandemic,” said DeYoung, who
is also core faculty of UD’s Disaster Research Center. “These challenges
seemed to exacerbate the ‘usual’ levels of stress, isolation, and other
difficulties that new parents experience during the postpartum period.
These findings were consistent across both the open-ended and the
quantitative measures that we included for this study — particularly
that social support mitigated the adverse impact of trauma.”
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Sarah DeYoung, assistant professor of sociology
A major theme among respondents was perceived isolation and an
association between higher trauma scores and lower levels of well-being.
Trauma was measured as the general experience of "giving birth in the
global pandemic and birthing experience.”
Although the research examined the time periods before and after
birth, much of the general stress occurred for women during their
hospital visits. Some respondents reported having to choose between
planned support persons, excluding either a doula or a significant other
or spouse because of visitor restriction policies. Others feared being
separated from their newborn if they contracted COVID-19 before or
during the timeframe of giving birth.
The impact on their lives after their infants were born was
significant, the respondents said. Isolation prevented them from
engaging in their typical coping mechanisms and the connections and
assistance they would receive from family and friends.
Infant feeding was an additional issue for respondents because many
indicated that they did not get the breastfeeding support they needed
after giving birth because of early hospital discharge. Approximately
75% of respondents indicated that they got "free formula samples" at
some point. This is a problem because it can undermine breastfeeding,
which is critical for maternal and infant health, especially in
disasters and crisis scenarios.
Managing work-life obligations also proved difficult, respondents
reported, especially if there were multiple children in the household.
Grandparents or extended family would typically help out with childcare,
but the pandemic made this next-to-impossible.
One respondent described her challenges: “It has been extremely
difficult to work from home while having a toddler in the house. Finding
that balance has not gone well. I feel like I’m failing as an employee
and as a mom.”
"Our findings suggest that the isolation associated with the COVID-19
pandemic has adverse outcomes for maternal mental health, specifically
psychological trauma during the postpartum time frame,” DeYoung said.
“This is not to say that social/physical distancing guidelines are not
important, but rather that birthing and postpartum parents should be
supported through social networks in new and creative ways."
Article by Peter Bothum
Published Feb. 16, 2021