DURHAM, N.C., March 8, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with higher levels of stress and depression symptoms, according to a new study funded by the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes Program (ECHO) at the National Institutes of Health.

Pregnant women who reported receiving more emotional support and engaging in more physical activity before and during the pandemic had lower stress and fewer symptoms of depression. The results also showed that the duration of pregnancies during the pandemic were slightly shorter on average, but there was no impact on infant birth weight.

“Providing access to emotional support and mental health care during pregnancy and encouraging more physical activity may help to improve maternal health,” said Alison Hipwell, PhD, ClinPsyD, an ECHO Program investigator at the University of Pittsburgh. “More research is needed to understand how social support and physical activity may protect pregnant people during stressful times.”

This study included 501 pregnant women who gave birth during the COVID-19 pandemic between March 12, 2020 and May 30, 2021 and 501 pregnant women who gave birth prior to March 11, 2020. Participants were 31 years old on average and enrolled in one of 16 ECHO research sites across the United States.

Irene Tung, PhD, of California State University Dominguez Hills, and Dr. Hipwell led this collaborative ECHO research published in Psychological Medicine.

Hipwell, A. E., et al. Impact of Sedentary Behavior and Emotional Support on Prenatal Psychological Distress and Birth Outcomes During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Psychological Medicine. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291723000314

About ECHO: ECHO is a nationwide research program supported by the NIH. Launched in 2016, ECHO aims to enhance the health of children for generations to come. ECHO investigators study the effects of a broad range of early environmental influences on child health and development. For more information,…