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Vol. 32. Issue S1.
Maternal and Child Nursing
Pages S5-S13 (June 2022)
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Vol. 32. Issue S1.
Maternal and Child Nursing
Pages S5-S13 (June 2022)
Original Article
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Factors associated with prenatal stress and anxiety in pregnant women during COVID-19 in Spain
Factores asociados al estrés prenatal y la ansiedad en gestantes durante el COVID-19 en España
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Natalia Awad-Sirhana,b,
Corresponding author
nawadsirhan@gmail.com

Corresponding author.
, Sandra Simó-Teufela, Yerko Molina-Muñozc, Juanita Cajiao-Nietod, María Teresa Izquierdo-Puchole
a Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
b Facultad de Psicología, Universidad del Desarrollo, Santiago, Chile
c Facultad de Psicología, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Santiago, Chile
d Grupo Interdisciplinario de Investigación en Salud, Fundación Universitaria CAFAM, Bogotá, Colombia
e Hospital Vithas Valencia 9 de Octubre, Valencia, Spain
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Abstract
Aim of the study

To describe prenatal stress and state anxiety levels in pregnant women living in Spain during the lockdown of the first wave of COVID-19 and its relation with obstetric factors, perception of health care, and concerns about the socio-sanitary situation.

Methods

The present study is an observational, correlational, and cross-sectional quantitative study. The participants in the study were pregnant women recruited through non-probabilistic convenience and snowball sampling during the lockdown. A web link was provided to an online questionnaire designed for this research, which collected socio-demographic and obstetric variables, perceptions of health care received during the pandemic and preoccupations associated with COVID-19. It also included the Prenatal Stress Questionnaire (PDQ) and the State Anxiety Inventory (STAI-S).

Results

Based on the responses of 695 pregnant women, the results showed a mean of 16.98 (SD = 25.20) of prenatal stress and elevated levels of anxiety (M = 25.20/SD = 11.07) in the first wave of the pandemic. Risk factors for prenatal stress and anxiety were the level of preoccupation associated with COVID-19 and previous mental health issues. A specific risk factor for anxiety was having more than one child and a protective factor were perceiving accessibility and availability of health care, with clear and consistent pregnancy care and follow-up protocols.

Conclusions

The lockdown period for COVID-19 was a stressful experience for pregnant women, highlighting the need to address their psychological well-being through clear and coherent protocols in terms of maternal-foetal health control and follow-up.

Keywords:
Mental health
Prenatal exposure delayed effects
Psychological distress anxiety
COVID-19
Perinatal care
Resumen
Objetivo

Describir los niveles de estrés prenatal y ansiedad estado en mujeres gestantes residentes en España durante el confinamiento generado por la primera ola de COVID-19, y su asociación con los factores obstétricos, percepción de la atención sanitaria y preocupación provocada por la situación sociosanitaria.

Método

Estudio cuantitativo, observacional, correlacional y de corte transversal. La población de estudio fueron mujeres gestantes confinadas, reclutadas a través de muestreo no probabilístico por conveniencia y de bola de nieve. Se difundió un enlace web de acceso a un cuestionario online diseñado para la investigación, que recogía variables sociodemográficas, obstétricas, sobre la percepción de la atención sanitaria recibida durante la pandemia y preocupaciones asociadas al COVID-19. Se incluyó también el Cuestionario de Preocupaciones Prenatales (PDQ) y el Inventario de Ansiedad Estado (STAI-S).

Resultados

Basados en las respuestas de 695 mujeres gestantes, los resultados indican que durante la primera ola de la pandemia se observó un nivel medio de estrés prenatal de 16,98 (DS = 25,20) y un nivel elevado de ansiedad (M = 25,20/DS = 11,07). Factores de riesgo determinante del estrés prenatal y ansiedad fueron el nivel de preocupación asociada al COVID-19 y tener antecedentes de salud mental. Un factor de riesgo específico para la ansiedad fue tener más de un hijo/a y un factor protector fue percibir accesibilidad y disponibilidad de la atención sanitaria.

Conclusiones

El periodo de confinamiento por COVID-19 significó un estrés adicional para las mujeres gestantes, poniendo en evidencia la necesidad de atender el bienestar psicológico de dicha población a través de protocolos claros y coherentes en cuanto a control y seguimiento de la salud materno-fetal.

Palabras clave:
Salud mental
Efectos tardíos de la exposición prenatal
Distrés psicológico
Ansiedad
COVID-19
Atención perinatal
Full Text

What is known?

Pregnancy is a period entailing major changes in a woman’s life. Extreme living situations, such as the experience of a pandemic, lead to greater vulnerability to developing stress and anxiety during this life stage.

What does this paper contribute?

It analyses the factors affecting the mental health of pregnant women during the pandemic. It highlights the effect of concerns generated by the socio-health situation, obstetric factors in the development of stress and anxiety and the protective effect of the perception of healthcare accessibility and availability, with protocols of action and clear, consistent follow-up.

Introduction

The healthcare and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus disease reported for the first time in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China, has affected the population worldwide. Due to the rapid propagation of the virus, on 14th March 2020 the Spanish Government declared a “state of emergency” throughout Spain, limiting peoples’ freedom of movement, save in exceptional circumstances.1 This involved mandatory lockdown as a measure of contagion prevention and control,1 which had an impact on the population’s mental health.2 This became obvious from the beginning of the coronavirus COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with anxiety increasing in the general population3 and the exacerbation of other mental problems in the pregnant population.4

At the start of the pandemic, it was observed that pregnant women who attended prenatal check-ups expressed concerns associated with the lack of information and the limitation of resources for control of the virus in the different health services. They also expressed fear at attending prenatal follow-up check-ups or that they would be cancelled; uncertainty regarding the possible non-compliance of their birth plan; doubts about the possibility of being accompanied by their partner and other family members, and the possible early termination of pregnancy and/or the need for elective caesareans and overly rigorous hygiene measures.5 The pandemic represented the appearance of additional reasons for uncertainty, contributing to emotional distress during this period.6,7 These concerns are common in first-time mothers with high risk, unplanned pregnancies.8,9

Pregnancy requires adaptation in all areas of life, and this leads to doubts and uncertainty, which may be highly stressful for the woman.10 Specific stress is spoken about referring to the prenatal stage, which is associated with the woman’s concerns relating to physical symptoms, health of the foetus, the birth, interpersonal relationships, and development during pregnancy.11 It has been estimated that over 25% of women suffer from prenatal stress.12 When levels are high and persistent, they may trigger anxiety disorder.13 Spielberger et al.,14 define the state of anxiety as an “immediate, transitory emotional state over time, which involves physiological and cognitive changes characterized by tension, apprehension and nervousness”. During pregnancy, anxiety is a common mental health problem, being observed in 15.2% of the pregnant population.15 Several studies concluded that women facing stressful events, among which may be included previous pregnancy losses, reproductive problems, fertility treatments, high risk pregnancies, unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, perinatal deaths, a history of psychiatric issues or a previous history of psychopathology, are more likely to experience anxiety during pregnancy.16 It has become obvious that anxiety is a risk factor for the development of pregnancy, and is associated with a higher risk of pregnancy loss, lower intrauterine growth, premature birth, foetal disturbances in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, low birth weight, and also affective disorders in women, which can have long-lasting effects on offspring.17,18

COVID-19 disease has been associated with various maternal and perinatal risks, posing a major challenge for obstetric and gynaecological practice.19 However, there is still little consideration of the risks of the socio-health situation caused by COVID-19 on women's mental health and its consequences on foetal development. It is essential to focus attention on the pregnant population, especially during the periods of lockdown associated with the pandemic crisis, as pregnancy could be considered a state of greater psychological vulnerability and therefore requires special care in the field of gynaecological-obstetric health.

As a result, the aim of this study was to describe the levels of prenatal stress and state anxiety in pregnant women living in Spain during the lockdown resulting from the first wave of COVID-19, with the focus on specific variables, including the concerns associated with COVID-19, the perception on the accessibility and availability of healthcare, and obstetric factors. This study intended to discover what the risk and protective factors were, from the point of view of healthcare, which contributed to regulating the mental health of the pregnant woman during times of major uncertainty and concern.

MethodDesign

An observational, correlational, cross-sectional quantitative study on the factors associated with prenatal stress and anxiety in women living in Spain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study population and scope

The study population were pregnant women in lockdown during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. To reach the sample, a non-probabilistic convenience and snow-ball sampling was used. To calculate the same size for a multiple lineal regression with the necessary quantity of predictors for the study, the G*Power programme version 3.1.9.720 was used, specifying a small effect size, an alpha of .05 and a power of .9. The "N" required for the study was 531 subjects.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Inclusion criteria for the analyses in this study were: having completed the questionnaire during lockdown, being over 18 years of age and having been confined to the home for 10 days or more. Exclusion criteria were: not having completed all the questionnaires and being or having been hospitalised for obstetric complications at the time of answering the questionnaires.

Variables

Sociodemographic variables (age, nationality, educational level, civil status), obstetric variables (trimester of gestation, planned pregnancy, fertility treatment pregnancy, previous pregnancy loss, risk pregnancy, number of children), health history (chronic disease) and mental health issue history (previous diagnoses of depression, anxiety or other affective disorders) were collected. Information was also collected on the perceived accessibility and availability of health care during the pandemic, concerns associated with COVID-19. Levels of prenatal stress and state anxiety were measured.

Measurement tools

Following a bibliographic review on the background of the new coronavirus and mental health in previous pandemics, an ad hoc questionnaire was designed which included the proposed variables and this was applied in this study for the first time. The questions associated with sociodemographic, obstetric and health history variables were assessed with single choice questions, dichotomous "yes" and "no" questions and self-completion questions.

For the variable of perception on the accessibility and availability of health care, a Likert-type scale was constructed from 0 ("Strongly disagree") to 4 ("Strongly agree"), with 3 questions: 1) "Do you think that access to basic needs (food, water, medical care) is guaranteed? "2) "Do you think that the protocols of action are clear and coherent in terms of avoiding risks of contagion?"; 3) "Was the information you received from your midwife/gynaecologist/health professional regarding the monitoring and care of the birth clear and satisfactory?". The overall scores obtained by the participants were used, adding the scores of each item, where the higher the score, the better the perception of the accessibility and availability of health care.

For the variable of concerns associated with COVID-19, a Likert-type scale was constructed from 0 ("Not at all") to 4 ("Extremely"), with 9 questions with the same introduction: "How concerned are you about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic": 1) "…on a social level?"; 2) "…on your job?"; 3) "…on your economic situation? "; 4) "…on the health of your friends and acquaintances?"; 5) "…on the health of your relatives (parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles)?"; 6) "…on the health of your partner?"; 7) "…on your own health?"; 8) "…on the health of your baby?"; 9) "Lately, I am more afraid than usual to go for prenatal check-ups". The overall scores obtained by the participants were used, adding up the scores for each item where the higher the score, the greater the concern.

The Prenatal Distress Questionnaire (P DQ),21 adapted and validated in a Spanish population by Caparros-González et al. al.22 was used to assess prenatal stress. It is a scale used to provide information on specific concerns and stress during pregnancy, related to physical symptoms, relationships, parenting, medical problems, preparation for labour, delivery and infant health. It consists of 12 items that are structured into 3 factors assessing concerns related to birth, relationships and physical condition. The scale does not establish a specific cut-off point, so in this case the overall scores obtained by the participants were used, adding the scores of each item, where the higher the score, the greater the prenatal stress. In its original format it had a Cronbach's alpha of .80 and .81. The overall scale reliability of the questionnaire for this study had a Cronbach's alpha of .74.

The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI),14 adapted and validated in Spanish by Buela-Casal et al.,23 was used to assess anxiety. It is an inventory that assesses the state of anxiety characterised by consciously perceived subjective feelings that are linked to a precise and identifiable event. The inventory has 20 items for state anxiety (transient) and 20 items for trait anxiety (anxious propensity, relatively stable). Each item is scored on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 to 3, with higher scores indicating greater severity. Each subscale has a range of scores from 20 to 80, with higher scores indicating greater anxiety. In this study only state anxiety was assessed. The cut-off point used was 33/34, equivalent to the 85th percentile, in accordance with the scales established for the Spanish population.23 The reliability of the state anxiety scale showed a Cronbach's alpha of 0.94 for this study.

Data collection

A flyer-type invitation was sent to institutions and professionals in the perinatal area and to pregnant women through social networks (Instagram®, Facebook®, Linkedin® and Whatsapp®), which included a web link to the online survey. The online survey system LimeSurvey® was used for its implementation. This is an open survey, in which any woman of legal age, fluent in Spanish and pregnant, regardless of gestational age or place of residence, was invited to participate voluntarily. Participants who responded between 27 April and 3 May 2020, the mandatory quarantine period in Spain, were included. No initial contact was made 2 with potential participants.

The first section of the questionnaire included the objectives of the study, information about the study promoters, the supporting institution and the duration of the survey. At the end of this section, informed consent and information on transparency and data protection were provided. The participant's consent was requested by ticking a checkbox, which was taken as the signature required to give consent to participate and allow the use of data. A cookie was set to avoid repeated participation or changes in responses. At the end of the questionnaire participants were invited to share the questionnaire with other pregnant women.

Data analysis

Descriptive statistics such as frequencies and percentages for categorical variables and mean, standard deviation, maximum, minimum, coefficient of skewness and coefficient of variation for numerical variables were used. To test the hypotheses of the study, multiple linear regressions were used, reporting the adjusted R2 coefficient of determination, the regression coefficients with their respective hypothesis tests and the Durbin-Watson statistic to evaluate autocorrelation.

Two regression models were performed. In the first one the dependent variable was "prenatal stress" and in the second one the dependent variable was "state anxiety". In both models the possible associated factors incorporated as independent variables were: planned pregnancy, assisted reproduction gestation, number of children, previous pregnancy loss, risky gestation, presence of chronic illness, history of mental health, perception of accessibility and availability of health care and concern associated with COVID-19. The method used for selection of the final predictors was stepwise. The criterion for the rejection of the null hypothesis for the regression coefficients was used as an alpha of .05.

For both models the possible effects of confusion in the sociodemographic variables were assessed. The bivariate relationship was observed between the sociodemographic variables and the study-dependent variables, being incorporated into the regression models as adjustment variables only those which presented with significant association.

Analyses were performed using the IBM® SPSS programme version 23.

Ethical considerations

This study was approved by the Experimental Research Ethics Committee of the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Valencia (registration number 1291254). The processing of personal data complies with Organic Law 3/2018, of 5th December, on the Protection of Personal Data and Guarantee of Digital Rights. All procedures conform to the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki and the Good Clinical Practice Directive (Directive 2005/28/EC) of the European Union. The data collected in the study are anonymous and identified by a code.

Results

In total, 1,043 pregnant women completed the questionnaires. Out of these, 894 (85.7%) resided in Spain and 149 in other countries. Of those residing in Spain, 695 met with all the inclusion criteria (N = 695). The age range fell between 21 and 47 years (M = 33.83; SD = 4.102). As observed in Table 1, 96% stated they were of Spanish nationality, had a high level of education (70.2% stated they had university studies) and had a stable partner (94.8%).

Table 1.

Sociodemographic characteristics of the pregnant women during lockdown (N = 695).

Sociodemographic variables  Categories  Number of subjects  Percentage 
What is your nationality?  Spanish  667  96.0 
  Other nationalities  28  4.0 
Highest level of education  Primary education  1.1 
  Secondary education  66  9.5 
  Technical studies  133  19.1 
  University studies  488  70.2 
Current civil status  Married  402  57.8 
  Unmarried couple  257  37.0 
  Single  27  3.9 
  Separated/divorced  1.3 

With regard to the dependent study variables, it may be observed that prenatal stress (determined by the PDQ score) presents a mean of 16.98 (SD = 6.53; Min = 2; Max = 41), with a higher spread (CV = .38 > .1) and slight positive skewness (C. skewness = .503). The anxiety state variable (determined by the STAI-S score) presents a mean of 25.20 (DS = 11.07; Min = 0; Max = 57) with a high spread (CV = .44 > .1) and slight positive skewness (C. skewness = .285). According to the scales used for the Spanish population, in our study 67.3% had a low score in anxiety state and 32.6% presented with indicators of anxiety.

With regard to categorical independent variables, Table 2 reveals that most participants in their third trimester of pregnancy (58.4%), state that their pregnancy was planned (84.9%), that the pregnancy was not achieved through assisted reproduction (88.3%), that they had other children (57.1%), that they had not had pregnancy losses prior to their current pregnancy (66.3%), that they had no chronic disease (78.3%), that they did not have a risk pregnancy (80.3%), and they had no history of mental health issues (63.2%).

Table 2.

Frequencies and percentages for independent categorical variables.

Variable  Categories  Frequency  Percentage 
Pregnancy trimester  1st trimester  49  7.1 
  2nd trimester  240  34.5 
  3rd trimester  406  58.4 
Planned pregnancy  Yes  509  84.9 
  No  105  15.1 
Assisted reproduction pregnancy  Yes  81  11.7 
  No  614  88.3 
Number of living children (not including current pregnancy)  Has no other children  298  42.9 
  Has more children  397  57.1 
Have you had any pregnancy losses?  Yes  234  33.7 
  No  461  66.3 
Have you had any medical complications during your pregnancy?  Yes  137  19.7 
  No  558  80.3 
Have you had any complications or do you suffer from any chronic disease?  Yes  151  21.7 
  No  544  78.3 
Throughout your life. have you had any mental health issues? (e.g., symptoms of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues?)Yes  256  36.8 
No  439  63.2 

The perception of health care (determined by the score of the Perception of health care scale) presents a mean of 2.62 (SD = .74; Min = .33; Max = 4.00), quite close to the midpoint of the scale, with a high level of dispersion (CV = .28 > .1) and with a slight negative skewness (C. skewness = -.429). Concern associated with COVID-19 (determined by the COVID-19 Associated Concerns scale score) behaves similarly, presenting a mean of 2.62 (SD = .68; Min = .56; Max = 4.00), a high dispersion (CV = .26 > .1), and a slight negative skewness (C. skewness = -.339).

Regarding the results for regression models (Table 3), for prenatal stress, the factors included in the model for presenting with a significant association with the variable were: concern associated with COVID-19, showing a positive association (β = 3.832; t = 11.549; p < .001); a history of mental health issues, i.e. prior diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other psychological difficulties associated with greater prenatal stress (β = 1.912; t = 4.081; p < .001); number of children which shows a negative association with prenatal stress (β = −.985; t = −2.854; p = .004) and pregnancy through treatment with assisted reproduction which is associated with a lower level of prenatal stress (β = −1.540; t = −2.166; p = .031). The model explains that 18.5% of the variability of prenatal stress (R2 adj = .185) and there is no evidence of autocorrelation in the model (Durbin-Watson = 1.813). To sum up, concern for COVID-19 and a history of mental health are shown to be factors of risk for prenatal stress, whilst a protective factor is the number of children and pregnancy through assisted reproduction treatment.

Table 3.

Multiple regression models for prenatal stress and state anxiety stress.

Dependent variable  Factors  β  SE  p value 
Prenatal stress  Constant  6.925  .917  7.550  < .001 
  COVID-19 associated concern  3.832  .332  11.549  < .001 
  History of mental health issue  1.912  .468  4.081  < .001 
  Number of children  −.985  .345  −2.854  .004 
  Fertility treatment  −1.540  .711  −2.166  .031 
    R2 adjusted = .185       
    Durbin-Watson = 1.813       
State anxiety  Constant  18.650  2.333  7.995  < .001 
  COVID-19 associated concern  4.798  .546  8.786  < .001 
  History of mental health issue  4.504  .765  5.885  < .001 
  Number of children  3.246  .554  5.856  < .001 
  Perception of healthcare  −2.679  .504  −5.312  < .001 
  Planned pregnancy  −2.703  1.019  −2.653  .008 
    R2 adjusted = .246       
    Durbin-Watson = 1.990       

β = regression coefficient p = p value/sig; SE = standard error for regression coefficient; T = t for regression coefficient.

In the second regression model, referring to state anxiety, the factors included in the model as presenting a significant association with the variable were: concern associated with COVID-19, where there is a positive association (β = 4.798; t = 8.786; p < .001); a history of mental health isssues, associated with a higher state anxiety (β = 4.504; t = 5.885; p < .001); number of children which shows a positive association with anxiety (β = 3.246; t = −5.856; p < .001); perception of healthcare, which shows a negative association (β = −2.679; t = −5.312; p < .001); and that the pregnancy was planned, which is associated with a lower state anxiety (β = −2.703; t = −2.653; p = .008). The model explains the 24.6% variability of state anxiety (R2 adj = .246) and there is no evidence of autocorrelation in the model (Durbin-Watson = 1.990). To sum up, during the first wave of the pandemic, risk factors for state anxiety were concern associated with COVID-19, having a history of mental health problems and having more than one child, whilst the protective factors were the perception of available healthcare and planned pregnancy.

Discussion

This study focused on describing levels of prenatal stress and state anxiety and their association with obstetric factors, perception of health care and concern about the socio-sanitary situation generated by the first wave of COVID-19 in a sample of 695 pregnant women living in Spain during lockdown.

As observed in the present study, the socio-health restrictions and the consequent lockdown resulted in the emergence of significant concerns from the pregnant population. The participants in this study have a mean score on the prenatal stress scale (PDQ) of 16.98 out of 48 points (SD = 6.53). This result is similar to that reported by Ibrahim and Lobel17 in their systematic review prior to the pandemic, where they identify a mean prenatal stress score (PDQ) of 16.21 (SD = 6.22). It also coincides with the results reported by Romero-González et al.24 during the pandemic in Spain, where they identify a mean prenatal stress (PDQ) of 16.87 (6.71). That is, women's specific concerns and stress related to gestational development remain at similar levels to those observed before the pandemic.

With regard to state anxiety, referring to subjective feelings of anxiety perceived to be linked to a specific event,14 which in this case was the pandemic, the study participants had a mean score of 25.20 (SD = 11.07). Anxiety indicators are observed in 32.6% of pregnant women, when the value reported in the literature prior to the pandemic period was 15.2%15. This data contrasts with the results reported in other studies carried out during the pandemic in Spain in the same period of lockdown, where the mean anxiety (STAI-S) varies from 41.7 (SD = 10.6)25 to 43.07 (SD = 11. 73).26 It is important to note that for the aforementioned studies25,26 the sample was recruited in the hospital setting, unlike our study where they were recruited online. In a study conducted in Israel, it was observed that one of the most important sources of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic in pregnant women was attending pregnancy check-ups and being in public places.27 It is possible that women recruited in hospital settings felt more exposed to the virus than those who completed online questionnaires.

In order to analyse the factors associated with the levels of prenatal stress and anxiety presented by pregnant women between May and April 2020, two predictive analyses were carried out that considered 3 groups of independent variables (obstetric variables, variable of concerns associated with COVID-19 and variable of perception of accessibility and availability of health care). Both regression analyses, both for antenatal stress and state anxiety, indicate that the main predictor was the COVID-19 concern. That is, both specific gestational stress and anxiety related to the subjective perception of feelings of anxiety about the pandemic situation are associated with concerns generated by the fear of personal contagion, of the foetus, of relatives or friends, of attending prenatal check-ups and its consequences at the social and occupational levels. This is consistent with studies carried out in pregnant women in other countries, such as the USA,6 Israel27 and Italy,28 highlighting the concern for the health of the mother and foetus and its association with higher levels of anxiety and stress.

Both analyses also identified that women who reported a history of mental health problems were at increased risk of presenting symptoms of prenatal stress and anxiety during pregnancy in times of pandemic. This finding is consistent with the study by Ravaldi et al.,28 which found that the presence of prior psychopathology predicted high levels of anxiety and post-traumatic stress in pregnant women during the pandemic in Italy.

With regard to the variables specifically associated with prenatal stress, two variables were identified as being associated with lower levels of prenatal stress. A first variable is achieving pregnancy through assisted reproduction treatments. This is an initially counter-intuitive result that is not related to the results of other studies.10 Studies conducted before the pandemic show that having undergone assisted reproduction treatments is accompanied by high levels of psychological stress29 and that anxiety symptoms resolve after successful treatments.30 Possibly, women who are pregnant after successful assisted reproduction treatment have found in lockdown the possibility to get away from the stressors they have previously faced during treatment and spend more time taking care of food, sleep and healthy practices that have a positive impact on the reduction of specific stress related to pregnancy.17,31 However, there are no studies indicating an explanation for this either, and no studies have been found that speak to these outcomes in times of pandemic.

A second variable associated with prenatal stress in this study is the number of children, where the more children the woman has, the lower the prenatal stress levels. A study in iran,32 found that women who were pregnant for the first time were at greater risk of experiencing concerns during the pandemic. This could be explained by the fact that women who have more sons and daughters have already previously experienced concerns associated with motherhood. However, in terms of variables specific to state anxiety, the present study shows that having more children is a risk factor. This is consistent with the results from the study by Balluerka et al.,33 where emotional distress was found to be associated with the role of motherhood and the increased burden of household chores during the pandemic, since school closures meant that the children were in the home 24 hours a day.

Notwithstanding, a protective factor of state anxiety is associated with having a planned or wanted pregnancy, which is consistent with the majority of research studies in the pregnant population.16,34

Also of note as a protective factor specific to state anxiety is the perceived accessibility and availability of health care. That is, pregnant women who perceive that they have access to health care, who perceive clear and coherent protocols for action in terms of avoiding the risk of infection and who are satisfied with the care and follow-up provided by gynaecological-obstetric professionals, have lower levels of anxiety. Since the beginning of the pandemic, lack of information, as well as the difficulty in accessing prenatal check-ups, has been a major concern for pregnant women,5 which has translated into additional reasons for uncertainty. The results of the present study are consistent with those reported in pre-pandemic studies, which indicate that lack of clear and timely information regarding the health situation may exacerbate the risk of psychological and psychosocial distress.2 In addition, a study conducted during the first wave in a pregnant population in Turkey indicates, in this regard, that lack of information during the pandemic is associated with higher levels of anxiety.35

This study has some limitations. Firstly, it presents selection biases, as it is a non-probabilistic sampling, when for this type of study with large samples a random probability sampling strategy would be more appropriate. Secondly, it is possible to identify certain information biases, as the online questionnaire does not ensure that the questionnaire is administered in a standardised manner. In addition to the above, the obstetric and health variables were not collected through a medical report to ensure that the participant really had such a history (either risky pregnancy, history of mental health or chronic illness) and that the questionnaire used to collect information regarding concerns and perceptions in relation to COVID-19 was developed on purpose for the study, without being validated beforehand, since no similar situation had been experienced before. Thirdly, there are limitations in terms of internal validity, as the study is cross-sectional, so it is not appropriate to refer to predictors per se. However, there are variables that are prior to the appearance of the dependent variables in terms of time, such as number of children, planned pregnancy, assisted reproduction treatments and perception of accessibility and availability of health care. Fourthly, in the present analysis, other variables such as social support or employment status, among others, which could have an impact on prenatal anxiety and stress, were not incorporated into the regression model.

For future research, it would be interesting to investigate the relationship between childbearing after assisted reproduction treatment and prenatal stress. On the other hand, considering the protective nature of the perception of access and availability of health care in our results, it would be interesting to collect information on the type (public or private care) or quality of care received. The evaluation of coping strategies of the pregnant woman could also be pertinent, in order to identify specific factors for the promotion of resilience during gestational follow-up in times of crisis in prenatal care settings.

Cross-sectional studies of pregnant women during the pandemic are a starting point for further studies to assess the possible consequences of stress and anxiety levels on maternal mental health, the impact on maternal-infant bonding and neonatal development. Given the risks associated with high levels of stress and anxiety during the prenatal period, it is essential to pay attention to the stress experienced by pregnant women in two ways: in relation to the uncertainty and concerns associated with pregnancy itself and to the concerns associated with the pandemic. This study demonstrates the importance of paying attention during these times of crisis to the most vulnerable pregnant women, such as those who report having suffered mental health disorders, and the need to attend to the psychological well-being of this population through clear and coherent protocols for the control and monitoring of maternal and foetal health.

Financing

This study did not receive any specific funding from public sector agencies, commercial sector agencies or not-for-profit entities.

Conflict of interests

The authors have no conflict of interests to declare.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to all the study participants and to the institutions and professionals who supported us with the scope of the research and especially to the staff at the Maternal-Foetal Diagnostic Unit of the Hospital Vithas Valencia 9 de Octubre.

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Please cite this article as: Awad-Sirhan N, Simó-Teufel S, Molina-Muñoz Y, Cajiao-Nieto J, Izquierdo-Puchol MT. Factores asociados al estrés prenatal y la ansiedad en gestantes durante el COVID-19 en España. Enferm Clin. 2022;32:S5–S13.

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