Experiences of postpartum anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed methods study and demographic analysis

Mamrath, Simran; Greenfield, Mari; Fernandez Turienzo, Cristina; Fallon, Victoria and Silverio, Sergio A. (2024). Experiences of postpartum anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed methods study and demographic analysis. PLOS ONE, 19(3), article no. e0297454.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0297454


Introduction: The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the reconfiguration of perinatal and maternity services, national lockdowns, and social distancing measures which affected the perinatal experiences of new and expectant parents. This study aimed to explore the occurrence of postpartum anxieties in people who gave birth during the pandemic.
Methods: An exploratory concurrent mixed-methods design was chosen to collect and analyse the quantitative and qualitative data of an online survey during the first UK lockdown. The survey included the Postpartum Specific Anxiety Scale–Research Short Form–for use in global Crises [PSAS-RSF-C] psychometric tool, and open-ended questions in relation to changes in birth plans and feelings about those changes and giving birth in a pandemic. Differences in measured scores were analysed for the participant’s ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability using independent Student’s t-tests, and for age, the analysis was completed using Pearson’s correlation. Qualitative data from open-ended questions were analysed using a template analysis.
Results: A total of 1,754 new and expectant parents completed the survey between 10th and 24th April 2020, and 381 eligible postnatal women completed the psychometric test. We found 52.5% of participants reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of postnatal anxiety–significantly higher than the rates usually reported. Younger women and sexual minority women were more likely to score highly on the PSAS-RSF-C than their older or heterosexual counterparts (p<0.001). Younger participants reported anxieties in the ‘infant safety and welfare’ category, whilst lesbian, gay, bisexual, and pansexual participants scored highly in the ‘psychosocial adjustment to motherhood’ category.
Discussion: Postpartum anxiety is under-reported, and demographic differences in the rates of postpartum anxiety are under-researched. This research demonstrates for the first time a difference in postpartum anxiety rates amongst sexual minority women.

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