Study to examine health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for mothers and their new babies

Using a holistic perspective to look at stress, mood and pregnancy outcomes

By Celine Zadorsky

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered many people’s lifestyles. Parents may be working from home, providing additional childcare or experiencing social isolation. Some are dealing with decreased work hours and loss of employment. With all these factors at hand, a team of researchers from Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University are investigating the possible health impacts on mothers and their babies who were born or will be born during the pandemic.

“This has been a stressful and pivotal time for everyone in the world, but we know the post-partum experience can greatly affect both the birthing person and their baby, in the short and long term,” says Dr. Genevieve Eastabrook, Associate Scientist at Lawson and Assistant Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We know perceived stress in the perinatal period may have a contribution to health later in life for the birthing person and their children in terms of overall cardiovascular and metabolic health, bonding experiences, and risk of mood disorders.” Dr. Eastabrook is also an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).

As part of the new study, the London research team is using an approach called ‘One Health’ which offers a holistic perspective to explore how various risk factors and social determinants of health interact to affect health. This is being studied through the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Western. “It’s important for us to think of the environment as all of our surroundings, including the things around us like health care, grocery stores, education and employment,” says Mei Yuan, MSc research student at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “The purpose of this study is to look at the pandemic response rather than the pandemic itself. We know that even if women haven’t been infected with COVID-19, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been impacted.”

Study participants are asked to complete a 30-minute questionnaire at around 6-12 weeks after their delivery. The questionnaire focuses on perceived stress, postpartum depressive symptoms, perceived social support, the impact of COVID-19, health-care access and breastfeeding. Data from the questionnaire will be linked with participants’ medical records to look for associations between the various factors and pregnancy outcomes. “Even though the study is mainly focused on maternal health, studies have shown that once mental health is affected it really does impact the infant’s health, especially in the area of attachment between baby and caregivers,” explains Yuan.

Data from the study will be compared to the Maternity Experiences Survey, a national survey of Canadian women compiled in 2007 which looked at experience, perception, knowledge and practice during pregnancy, birth and the early months of parenthood. “The unique aspect here is that we have a comparative group using a historic cohort to see whether or not there are differences in markers that increase risk of depression, perceived stress and lack of social support,” adds Dr. Eastabrook. “We will also look at some unique things from the pandemic, such as how the use of virtual care for antenatal, postpartum and baby care impacted people’s experiences.”

The research team hopes to recruit 300 mothers for this study who have given birth at LHSC, specifically during the pandemic. Interested participants can email the Pregnancy Research Group at Once all the data is collected the goal will be to use the findings to improve post-partum care for mothers and their babies within this population group.

Celine Zadorsky works in Communications & External Relations, Lawson Health Research.