Early in the pandemic, new moms with COVID-19 were separated from their babies at birth - and postpartum depression rates soared

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Early in the pandemic, new moms with COVID-19 were separated from their babies at birth - and postpartum depression rates soared
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  • A study of New York moms with COVID-19 who were separated from their babies found higher rates of postpartum depression.
  • Recommendations on separation intended to protect babies, but were later reversed.
  • It's unclear if having COVID-19 in pregnancy or the separation itself accounted for the results.

Hospital protocols intended to protect newborns from COVID-19 may have contributed to high rates of postpartum depression among their moms, new research shows.

The not-yet-published study, presented Friday at the American College of Gynecologists' annual meeting, looked at 224 women who gave birth at a New York hospital between March 18 and May 12 2020.

The 58 women who tested positive were separated from their babies immediately after birth and throughout their hospital recovery, a strategy recommended at that time by the American Academy of Pediatrics in order to help prevent mom-to-infant COVID-19 transmission.

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The researchers found that 10.3% of those moms met the criteria for postpartum depression six weeks after birth, compared to only 2.4% of moms who didn't have COVID-19 and weren't separated from their children.

That's a nearly four times greater risk, although it's still in line with the risk in the general population, where 10% to 15% of new moms experience postpartum depression.

The findings suggest "asymptomatic mothers positive for SARS-CoV-2 should be allowed to room in with their neonate and not endure separation," the study authors write.

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The AAP has changed its recommendations

The AAP came to the same conclusion due to CDC and other data showing low rates of transmission between moms and babies.

"Some of the [prior] recommendations conflict with what we know about the developmental benefits of early breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact," Dr. Dani Dumitriu, an assistant professor of pediatrics in psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in a press release.

His team's research showed good hygiene, mask-wearing, and social distancing while resting seem to effective in keeping babies safe while also allowing them to benefit from breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.

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For babies, those benefits include improved digestion, heart rate and breathing, mood, weight, sleep, immune system, brain development, and more

For moms, the practice stimulates oxytocin, the "love hormone" that promotes a nurturing feeling, and beta-endorphin, which relieves pain and promotes calm, in new moms. It also improves their breastfeeding experience and, notably, reduces the risk of postpartum depression.

It's not clear whether the separation itself, or the stress of having COVID-19 while pregnant, led to the depression

The researchers couldn't sort out how much maternal-fetal separation accounted for the results as opposed to other factors. Experiencing stressful events - like contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy early in the pandemic - in the year prior to delivery can increase the risk of postpartum depression, research shows.

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More research is underway to determine if there was a change in postpartum depression rates after the American Academy of Pediatrics deemed maternal-fetal separation unnecessary, study author Dr. Ana Collins told Insider.

Her message to new moms is to reach out to their providers if they suspect they're experiencing postpartum depression, and to give themselves credit. "To deliver in a global pandemic is no easy feat, but you managed to accomplish something that no one could have ever predicted," she said.

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