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 Western-led study will investigate how mothers are dealing with stress before, during and after their pregnancies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the short- and long-term effects this moment in human history has on moms and their newborn babies.
Led by Education professor Emma Duerden, the PEARL study – short for PrEgnAncy ResiLience – looks to recruit 200,000 mothers worldwide to participate in the online program. The study will focus on a mother’s mood, ability to think and reason, and how her stress may influence the baby and baby’s health.
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. That stress greatly alters their moods, their thoughts and their babies,” Duerden said.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, stress caused by health risks, quarantine, isolation and genuine fear is being felt by pregnant women around the world. 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, a postdoctoral scholar 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. We want to understand the extremes of these indicators so that we can help pregnant women cope and manage on a global scale,” Nichols said. “It’s maybe become cliché but we’re truly all in this together.”
The study has already recruited more than 500 participants from Canada, the United States, India, Uganda, Croatia and the Netherlands.