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Uptrend in distress and psychiatric symptomatology in pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand (2020)


<p><b>INTRODUCTION: </b>Prenatal maternal distress has a negative impact on the course of pregnancy, fetal development, offspring development and later psychopathologies. The study aimed to determine the extent to which the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may aggravate pregnant women prenatal distress and psychiatric symptomatology.</p><p><b>MATERIAL AND METHODS: </b>Two cohorts of pregnant volunteer women were evaluated, one that was recruited before the COVID-19 pandemic (n=496) through advertisements in prenatal clinics in Quebec, Canada, from April 2018 to March 2020; the other (n=1258) was recruited online during the pandemic from April 2 to April 13 2020. Prenatal distress and psychiatric symptomatology were measured with the Kessler Distress Scale (K10), Post-traumatic Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5), Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES-II) and Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS).</p><p><b>RESULTS: </b>The 1754 pregnant women (M =29.27, SD=4.23) were between 4 and 41 gestational weeks (M=24.80, SD=9.42), were generally educated (91.3% had post-high school training) and financially well-resourced (85.3% were above the low-income cut-off). A multivariate analysis of covariance controlling for age, gestational age, household income, education and lifetime psychiatric disorders showed a large effect size (ES) in the difference between the two cohorts on psychiatric symptoms (Wilks' λ=0.68, F =108.50, p < 0.001, partial η = 0.32). According to post-hoc analyses of covariance, the COVID-19 women reported higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms (ES=0.57), dissociative symptoms (ES=0.22 and 0.25), symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (ES=0.19), negative affectivity (ES = 0.96) and less positive affectivity (ES=0.95) than the pre-COVID-19 cohort. Women from the COVID-19 cohort were more likely than pre-COVID-19 women to present clinically significant levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms [OR=1.94, χ2(1)=10.05, p=.002]. Multiple regression analyses indicated that COVID-19 pregnant women having a previous psychiatric diagnosis or low income would be more prone to elevated distress and psychiatric symptoms.</p><p><b>CONCLUSIONS: </b>Pregnant women assessed during the COVID-19 pandemic reported more distress and psychiatric symptoms than pregnant women assessed before the pandemic, mainly in the form of depression and anxiety symptoms. Given the harmful consequences of prenatal distress on mothers and offspring, the presently observed upsurge of symptoms in pregnant women calls for special means of clinical surveillance.</p>

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