Prenatal maternal stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and birth outcomes: Is the newborn spared?



Pearson J, Fréchette-Boilard G, Baudry C, Matte-Gagné C, Bernier A, Lemelin J-P, Tarabulsy GM. (2023). Prenatal maternal stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and birth outcomes: Is the newborn spared?. Infant Behavior and Development. 72, 101866.


The COVID-19 pandemic has generated numerous stressors among the general population, but more specifically in pregnant women because of disruptions in prenatal care and delivery conditions. Studies suggest that prenatal maternal stress increased during the pandemic (Berthelot et al., 2020Perzow et al., 2021Tomfohr-Madsen et al., 2021). Considering what is known about the fetal programming potential of prenatal maternal stress, several researchers, early in the pandemic, raised concerns over the significant negative consequences that the pandemic context could have on birth outcomes. Studies comparing birth outcomes during versus before the pandemic suggest a marginal increase in birthweight and a significant decrease in preterm birth (Yang et al., 2022), but individual variations in prenatal maternal stress during the pandemic have received less attention. The objective of the present study is to examine the association between prenatal maternal stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and birth outcomes. During pregnancy, 195 expecting mothers reported on their general and pandemic-related stress. When their child was 6 months old, mothers completed a questionnaire collecting information on birth outcomes (gestational age, birthweight, head circumference and Apgar scores). Hierarchical linear regressions show that none of the maternal prenatal stress variables significantly predicted variations in birth outcomes. Potential pandemic-related protective factors (e.g., changes in life and hygiene habits, rest imposed by lockdowns) and the need to offer support to pregnant women are discussed.