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Zgierska investigates how pandemic affects pregnant and postpartum women

Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, the Jeanne L. and Thomas L. Leaman, MD, Endowed Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, is leading a research project to discover how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting pregnant and postpartum women in central Pennsylvania.

“Pregnancy and child birth can bring joy but also add complexity and stress to our lives,” Zgierska said. “The pandemic has heightened that stress among expectant mothers and families who now worry about impacts on pregnancy, mother and child health and family well-being. We need to actively support pregnant women, new mothers and their families so that families and children can thrive.”

A woman in a medical coat sits on a bench in an outdoor garden, smiling professionally.

Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PHD, DFASAM

The research team will use a survey and screening tool to identify pregnant women who are experiencing risk factors such as depression, substance misuse or anxiety that could lead to adverse outcomes such as premature birth or potential difficulties due to loss of income, isolation from support systems and other stresses. The research team will provide these women with a personalized list of resources or a link to a Penn State Health clinic where they can then schedule an online or in-person appointment with a clinician.

Jessica Wright, project manager for the team, knows firsthand how difficult it can be expecting a child during a pandemic. She said that while it’s always important to make healthy choices during pregnancy, making those choices is more stressful now than ever.

“Each decision I make is weighed against the potential impact of becoming COVID-positive on my older children and the baby, too,” Wright said.

The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences provided seed funding for this project.

Read the original story, which features Penn State research efforts to understand how fear may be affecting families during the pandemic

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