Generational effects of COVID-19: Elevated anxiety during pregnancy has negative impact on infants

A self-report questionnaire in pregnant women in Alberta reveals that stress resulting from specific concerns about COVID-19 exceeds expected levels and is higher than that experienced by other groups of people. Social support and physical activity appeared as potential protective factors.

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The global COVID-19 pandemic has provided a platform to study the impact of severe disease outbreak and subsequent quarantine on mental health issues. Since these issues are heightened in women more than men, the University of Calgary conducted a questionnaire based study on pregnant women since prolonged prenatal anxiety and depression in known to increase the risk of postpartum depression and infection rates in newborns. Moreover, earlier studies have shown that children of mothers who experienced heightened stress during pregnancy are at a higher risk for mental health problems in later life.

37.0% and 56.6% of participants had elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety respectively. COVID-19 stressors were chance of infection and unclear effects on the baby, social isolation, changes or reduced antenatal care and support, relationship strain and job loss. Although 16% had been paid off, this did not increase the odds for clinical depression. As perhaps expected, first time mothers were particularly anxious and highlight the urgent need to reduce psychological distress. From this initial study, increased perceived social support and exercise are targets for intervention.

The profile of the study group added further interesting insights. 87% of the more than 2000 participants identified as Caucasian with a median household income of 63,905-79,880 Euro. Individuals were slightly older and in stable relationships so the fact that this sociodemographic group expressed such anxiety, in a country that had a relatively contained outbreak highlights the impact of the pandemic on pregnant mums.

The group of researchers focuses on psychobiology, especially how stress during pregnancy effects child development. For further information on this important study, please contact the group leader Dr. Gerald Giesbrecht under


Reference: Elevated depression and anxiety symptoms among pregnant individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Paper available at: Science Direct

Full list of authors: Catherine Lebel, Anna MacKinnon, Mercedes Bagshawe, Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen, Gerald Giesbrecht

DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.126