Mothers who were caring for a new baby during lockdown were twice as likely to be struck by post-natal depression, according to a study.
University College London experts surveyed 162 London-based women with infants younger than six months old between May and June last year.
Almost half (47 per cent) said they were suffering from guilt, anxiety and exhaustion among other symptoms, which fitted the definition of the illness.
For comparison, estimates from multiple studies in Europe suggest rates were at one in five (23 per cent) before the pandemic.
Experts blamed the rise on the burden of ‘constant mothering’ without childcare or support from other family members.
The team also pointed to feelings among some mothers that they had missed out on forming friendships with other mothers and their babies.
University College London scientists found 47 per cent of mothers they surveyed were suffering from post-natal depression between May and June (stock image)
WHAT IS POSTNATAL DEPRESSION?
Postnatal depression is a form of the mental-health condition that affects more than one in 10 women in the UK and US within a year of giving birth.
As many men can be affected as women, research suggests.
Many parents feel down, teary and anxious within the first two weeks of having a child, which is often called the ‘baby blues’.
But if symptoms start later or last longer, they may be suffering from postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression is just as serious as others form of the mental-health disorder.
Lack of enjoyment or interest in the wider world
Struggling to bond with your baby
Withdrawing from others
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Frightening thoughts, such as hurting your baby
Sufferers should not wait for their symptoms to just go away.
Instead they should recognise that it is not their fault they are depressed and it does not make them a bad parent.
If you or your partner may be suffering, talk to your GP or health visitor.
Treatments can include self-help, such as talking to loved ones, resting when you can and making time to do things you enjoy. Therapy may also be prescribed.
In severe cases where other options have not helped, antidepressants may be recommended. Doctors will prescribe ones that are safe to take while breastfeeding.
Postnatal depression’s cause is unclear, however, it is more common in those with a history of mental-health problems.
Lack of support from loved ones, a poor relationship with the partner and a life-changing event, such as bereavement, can also raise the risk.
Scientists used Facebook adverts to recruit mothers to the study, offering them a £5 voucher for taking part.
The survey asked them to list 25 people who were important to them — such as family and close friends — and then which of these they had seen in person, spoken to or messaged.
They also answered questions on how they were feeling to assess whether they were suffering from PND.
Mothers who took part were between 19 and 47 years old. Half of them were first time mothers, while 40 per cent were having their second child.
Half of them also said they had no complications during birth, while one in ten said there were ‘major complications’ — which may have led to a C-section, a condition linked to higher levels of PND.
As many as 115 babies in the study were born before the first lockdown began, and 47 were born during the restrictions.
Only two of the women who took part said they had no partners.
The results suggested mothers caring for babies during lockdown were more likely to suffer from isolation, exhaustion, worry, inadequacy, guilt and increased stress.
Those who had more contact with people faced fewer depressive symptoms than the mothers who were more isolated.
But when they saw close family members more often, mothers were also more likely to be suffering from PND than those that saw fewer relatives according to the survey.
They highlighted concerns including fears they were not being seen as a good mother, and the developmental impact on their baby of mixing with few infants.
The scientists added, however, that not everything mothers experienced due to lockdown was negative.
Some said the shutdown ‘protected’ family time, boosting bonding between parents and their children.
Others said their partners were around more often, and could help out more than previously had life been like pre-March 2020.
The researchers, led by UCL anthropologist Dr Sarah Myers, said in the paper: ‘Mothers in London were not okay during England’s first lockdown, with a substantial number of women meeting the diagnostic criteria for PND.
‘While Western childrearing norms focus on intensive parenting, our results highlight that it still “takes a village” to raise children in high-income populations.
‘Several studies from Europe and the US have found that maternal domestic work and childcare increased during the Covid pandemic, suggesting that the burden of lockdown may have disproportionately impacted mothers.
‘While our qualitative results suggest high partner involvement may have been associated with more positive experiences of lockdown… overall our results indicate that adequate support within the household was either not available or not enough for many mothers in our sample.’
Dr Myes added: ‘Our survey shows that lockdowns leave new mothers more vulnerable to PND, and that digital solutions might help but they are not the answer.
‘Policy makers must take this into account as we continue to deal with Covid, for the sake of mums, babies and whole families.’
Dr Emily Emmott, who was also involved in the study, said: ‘New mothers with more than one child were hardest hit, left to deal with newborns on top of multiple demands like homeschooling.
‘First-time mothers often felt cheated out of precious time spent together with their babies and family or friends, making coming to terms with the change of identity and isolation that new mothers often feel even harder.
‘But, where partners were at home more because of lockdown, and able to share the relentless tasks and household chores or take care of existing children, new mums felt the benefits.
‘This should also be food for thought when we look at support for parents with new babies, not just in a pandemic.’
The study was published in Frontiers in Psychology.