Postpartum depression affects approximately 1 in 8 women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 A team of researchers at the University of Virginia sought to determine how COVID-19 influences maternal depression.2
Researchers Examine Postpartum Depression During COVID-19
COVID-19 has led to death, hospitalization, and economic hardship on a mass scale. The investigators studied what effect, if any, the pandemic has had on depression after childbirth. They published their findings in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
The investigators analyzed data from a post-pregnancy survey on the Flo app, which helps women track their physical symptoms and mood during and after pregnancy. They collected data from 159,478 women who took the survey pre-pandemic (January 2018-February 2020) and 118,622 women who took it during COVID-19 (March 2020-March 2021). The researchers synced survey responses with US government data on COVID-19 cases and deaths from March 2020 through March 2021. They also assessed government data on unemployment.
Postpartum Depression Rates Increased During the Pandemic
The researchers identified an increase in postpartum depression symptoms over the course of a year following the emergence of COVID-19 in the United States. Before the pandemic, 6.5% of survey respondents reported postpartum depression; that figure increased to 6.9% after the start of the pandemic. The majority of states (36) saw an increase in postpartum depression, 7 states showed a decrease, and 8 remained unchanged. States with a higher prepandemic postpartum depression rate tended to show a smaller percent change in postpartum depressive symptom from the prepandemic to the pandemic period
Interestingly, the states with fewer deaths per capita saw a greater increase in postpartum depression, “driven by changes in anxiety and hopelessness.” The authors noted that further work is needed to identify what individual-level factors may be driving these differences on a state level.
The investigators observed what they described as a “significant increase” in postpartum depression over the course of the pandemic timeframe. “Rates of postpartum depression symptoms have clearly been impacted by the pandemic,” noted Jennifer L. Payne, MD, senior author of the study and director of the Reproductive Psychiatry Research Program at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.3
1. Depression During and After Pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated April 29, 2022.
2. Bajaj MA, Salimgaraev R, Zhaunova L, Payne JL. Rates of self-reported postpartum depressive symptoms in the United States before and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. J. Psychiatr. Res. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002239562200214X 2022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2022.04.011
3. Postpartum depression increased during pandemic’s first year, study finds. University of Virginia Health System. May 9, 2022.