Research Quick Take: Postpartum Depressive Symptoms during the Beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Examination of Population Birth Data from Central New Jersey

Between nine and thirteen percent of women report symptoms of depression during pregnancy or the postpartum period, constituting a significant public health problem. Studies have found that postpartum depression is correlated with many forms of stress, including divorce, the death of a loved one, poverty and financial strain, and overall poor health. During the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, many media sources covered the daunting difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth during a public health crisis, but scholars have paid little attention to the pandemic as a risk factor for postpartum depression. McFarland, McFarland, Hill and D’Oria explore the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on postpartum depression.

New Jersey’s progressive policies concerning postpartum depression screening make it an ideal geographic area to study. The New Jersey Vital Statistics include a quantitative measurement of a mother’s depressive symptoms for all births. Using this resource, the authors compare postpartum depression rates before the pandemic (N~10,000) and during the pandemic (N~4,000) throughout the state of New Jersey.

The authors find that giving birth during the first month of the pandemic (March 2020) was associated with more symptoms of postpartum depression. Giving birth in the second month of the pandemic (April 2020), however, had no more association with postpartum depression than pre-pandemic times. After a few weeks of uncertainty and chaos, new mothers may have learned to adapt to pandemic conditions and develop resources to improve their mental health. The authors cite a growing discussion on social media, blogs, and news media covering the topic of having a “corona baby,” by late March. New Jersey’s initiative to train healthcare workers to reach women with postpartum depression also contributed to the decrease in postpartum depression from March to April 2020.  

Dr. Michael McFarland is an Associate Professor at the FSU Department of Sociology.

This post is a summary of Dr. McFarland and his coauthors’ recent piece, “Postpartum Depressive Symptoms during the Beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Examination of Population Birth Data from Central New Jersey,” summarized by COSSPP blog researcher, Jesse Fried.

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