Global study examines pregnancy and stress during COVID-19 pandemic

Pregnancies, at the best of times, are stressful. When the world is experiencing a global pandemic, human response to risk — real or perceived — is undoubtedly heightened.

A new study from Western University will investigate how mothers are dealing with stress before, during and after their pregnancies at this unprecedented moment of human existence and the short and long-term effects that the COVID-19 outbreak has on moms and their newborn babies.

Emma Duerden

Emma Duerden

Led by Emma Duerden, an assistant professor in Western’s Faculty of Education, the PEARL (PrEgnAncy ResiLience) Study is hoping to recruit 200,000 mothers worldwide to participate in the online program, which will be focused on a mother’s mood, her ability to think and reason, and how her own stress may influence her baby and her baby’s health.

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Duerden and her collaborators will also assess how physical activity and the diets of pregnant women impact stress and whether or not implementing healthier habits improves resilience to stress during the pandemic.

“Historically, we know pregnant women experience a lot of stress during natural disasters like floods and ice storms and that stress greatly alters their moods, their thoughts and their babies,” says Duerden. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, stress caused by health risks, quarantine, isolation and genuine fear is being felt by pregnant women around the world and it is crucial that we identify what they experience not only for their own personal well-being but for the health of their babies.”

Emily Nichols

Emily Nichols

Emily Nichols, a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Education, is leading the cognition component of the study, which will assess reasoning, memory, decision making and sleep.

“Constant worrying, forgetfulness and an inability to focus are common cognitive symptoms of stress and we want to understand the extremes of these indicators so that we can help pregnant women cope and manage on a global scale,” says Nichols. “It’s maybe become cliché but we’re truly all in this together.”

The study has already recruited more than 500 participants from countries including Canada, United States, India, Uganda, Croatia and the Netherlands.

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