Communication Across Maternal Social Networks During England’s First National Lockdown and Its Association With Postnatal Depressive Symptoms

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Postnatal/postpartum depression had a pre-COVID-19 estimated prevalence ranging up to 23% in Europe, 33% in Australia, and 64% in America, and is detrimental to both mothers and their infants. Low social support is a key risk factor for developing PND. From an evolutionary perspective this is perhaps unsurprising, as humans evolved as cooperative childrearers, inherently reliant on social support to raise children. The coronavirus pandemic has created a situation in which support from social networks beyond the nuclear family is likely to be even more important to new mothers, as it poses risks and stresses for mothers to contend with; whilst at the same time, social distancing measures designed to limit transmission create unprecedented alterations to their access to such support. Using data from 162 mothers living in London with infants aged ≤6 months, we explore how communication with members of a mother’s social network related to her experience of postnatal depressive symptoms during the first “lockdown” in England. Levels of depressive symptoms, as assessed via the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, were high, with 47.5% of the participants meeting a ≥11 cut-off for PND. Quasi-Poisson regression modelling found that the number of network members seen in-person, and remote communication with a higher proportion of those not seen, was negatively associated with depressive symptoms; however, contact with a higher proportion of relatives was positively associated with symptoms, suggesting kin risked seeing mothers in need. Thematic qualitative analysis of open text responses found that mothers experienced a burden of constant mothering, inadequacy of virtual contact, and sadness and worries about lost social opportunities, while support from partners facilitated family bonding. While Western childrearing norms focus on intensive parenting, and fathers are key caregivers, our results highlight that it still “takes a village” to raise children in high-income populations and mothers are struggling in its absence.



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