It was inevitable. Live in and give birth in a quarantined world and watch your village literally disappear right before your eyes. While many moms giving birth during the COVID-19 lockdowns found alternate ways to support themselves with online connections, a new European study showed that almost half the women with babies 6-months or younger met the criteria for postpartum depression. This is more than DOUBLE the average rates for Europe pre-pandemic.

According to a new study led by researchers from the University College London, rates of women with babies 6-months or younger meeting the criteria for postpartum depression more than doubled during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with new moms feeling isolated and without traditional support systems.

It was bound to be, as many women even gave birth in isolation with hospitals sometimes not allowing even one support person during delivery in light of unknown COVID-19 ramifications.

The researchers found that almost half (47.5%) of women with babies aged six months or younger met the threshold for postpartum depression during the first COVID-19 lockdown. This is more than double the average rates for Europe before the pandemic (23%).

The surveyed mothers said they felt feelings of isolation, exhaustion, worry, inadequacy, guilt, and increased stress. Many of the moms mourned the losses of what they believed were opportunities for both themselves and their babies (community activities, relationships, etc.). Surveyed moms also were concerned about the developmental impact on the isolation they and their new babies felt in such early, formative times of their lives.

Additionally, many new moms felt stresses unusual for new mothers in that many were dealing with other children being home for school, or having partners who were unable or unavailable to help due to pandemic restrictions and regulations.

The research team looked at 162 new moms who were in London from May-June 2020 and asked them about how they interacted through the lockdowns during the pandemic. They wanted to know what types of communication the moms found most important and how they impacted their postpartum period.

The surveyed moms also reported well-being based on depression ratings of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Researchers wanted to look at the full range of a mom's social interactions and her mental health during lockdowns.

They found that the more contact moms had with people, even if remotely, the fewer depressive symptoms they reported. This suggests that the isolation and reduced contact during lockdown may have increased their risks for postpartum depression.

Interestingly, the women who did maintain some face-to-face contact with family members showed to be more likely to have depressive symptoms than those women who saw their relatives less often after the baby's birth. The research team believes this may be because even to do that, moms and family members were potentially breaking lockdown rules to help, and this could have been even more stressful and anxiety-producing than the help itself.

Many of the surveyed moms felt like they were in a constant mothering pattern without anyone to help. Though the virtual contact was helpful, it was still inadequate for many mothers who faced everything from physical to emotional tolls. Virtual contact placed more responsibility on women to ask for help, which was less likely to happen, because family and friends couldn't actively see them struggling as if they might in person. Moms felt this stressed them even more than they would normally be as a new parents, and they felt less inclined to ask for help.

Dr. Sarah Myers is with the UCL Anthropology department. She said that caring for a new child is stressful for mothers on any given day anyway based on the toll of emotions, mental and physical demands. When there's low social support, the risk of postpartum depression goes up and with social distancing measures during a lockdown? There were tons of barriers that prevented mothers from receiving practical and needed help in the weeks and months after their babies were born. Dr. Myers said it really does take a village to raise a child and in light of a world pandemic? Even more so increased demands make that necessary.

She said the results show that virtual options are helpful but not the solution to postpartum depression risks. Saying it was imperative for policymakers to take this into account as we move forward in a COVID-19 world, she noted that moms did find some solace in the pandemic requirements as well. Many felt that it protected their family time and helped with better onding, and some did find that their partners were able to be around more than had they been out of lockdown, leading to better bonding.

Dr. Emily Emmot is also with the UCL Anthropology department. She said that for those new moms with more than one child already in the home, new demands like home-schooling made it hard. First-time moms felt they were cheated out of the 'firsts' spent with family and friends and the change from 'woman' to 'mother' was harder because they were isolated.

Still, she noted that when partners WERE at home because of the lockdown, the ability to share tasks and chores or help with other children in the home was beneficial to the new moms. That's food for thought for how to make policy for parents in the future, not just in a pandemic.

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