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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Surveys tackle maternal health and COVID-19

Ekaterina Burduli, Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, Olivia Brooks and Crystal Lederhos Smith discuss research on infant and maternal health in a session before the pandemic’s distancing requirements.  (Cori Kogan, WSU Health Sciences Spokane)

Spokane-area women who are pregnant or just had a baby are being asked to complete surveys for researchers studying COVID-19’s psychological and physical health concerns for these groups during the pandemic.

Additionally, Washington State University researchers have about six current collaborative research projects across different disciplines regarding COVID-19’s impacts on moms, babies and families.

The restrictions and uncertainties linked to the COVID-19 pandemic are adding to any normal fears and worries among pregnant women and those who have given birth, said Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, associate professor with the WSU College of Nursing and vice chancellor for research for Health Sciences Spokane.

“Research has shown that when you’re experiencing high levels of stress during pregnancy, it has long-term effects on the fetus, the baby, as the baby develops, and in generations to come,” she said. “Our goal is to identify the knowledge and resources that could help pregnant and postpartum women cope with all of the unique stressors they are facing right now so that we can secure the health of moms and babies.”

Two of the studies are seeking survey input from local pregnant women or new moms through the end of June. One is a survey of pregnant and postpartum women on the psychological and social support resources they think are needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second study is seeking input from Washington and Idaho residents on maternal COVID-19 infection and how it is related to overall breast milk composition and infants’ health and well-being.

“When looking at breast feeding if the mother is COVID-19-positive, we’re looking at the overall breast milk composition, and we’re interested in any protective effects in breastfeeding,” Barbosa-Leiker said.

“We’re hoping pretty quickly in the next couple weeks to finish up both survey studies we’re doing, and we’re looking at getting the information out quickly. We’re hoping it will impact policy changes and health care providers’ education for patients so they can better inform and educate patients. By the end of summer, we’re hoping to have the surveys analyzed.”

Researchers are asking the moms surveyed to name three top resources that would help decrease their stress levels. Examples include being connected to resources such as for food, diapers and formula or options to shelter in place. Respondents might also rank whether it would relieve stress to know more about a birthing center’s COVID-19 policies during delivery.

“All of this information will be beneficial for quite a while and in the future if we need to shelter in place again,” Barbosa-Leiker said.

Barbosa-Leiker is one of more than a dozen WSU researchers who recently joined forces to form the WSU COVID-19 Infant, Maternal and Family Health Research Collaborative.

“We’re a group of researchers focused on infant and maternal health,” Barbosa-Leiker said. “We’re trying to pool our resources together and share our expertise to help women during this pandemic.”

Groups involved in the various studies include researchers on the Pullman campus, Vancouver and in the Seattle area. In Spokane, “Our expertise is really looking at the psychological stress and coping of the moms as well as health and lifestyle behaviors during the pandemic among pregnant and postpartum women.”

Although the new collaborative is just getting started, the researchers already had launched various studies to answer questions related to the impact of COVID-19 on the health of mothers, babies and families. That includes the one launched last month as the survey designed to measure mental health, stress, health behaviors, substance use and food insecurity in pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The breast-feeding project was recently funded by the National Science Foundation as a multi-institutional research study looking at the role of infant feeding in COVID-19.

The WSU team will be collaborating with researchers at the University of Idaho, University of Washington and Tulane University to address these questions, collecting data from postpartum women in Washington, Idaho and elsewhere in the nation who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past seven days. They are getting ready to distribute sample collection kits that participants will use to submit breast milk, stool and blood samples. The researchers hope to have preliminary study results available sometime later this year.

Other research projects that will be conducted by the collaborative include:

• Phone interviews with pregnant or parenting mothers who use cannabis or are on medication-assisted therapy about the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy or parenting led by Barbosa-Leiker.

• A study that measures cortisol levels in hair to measure pandemic-related stress in pregnant women and its effects on stress responsiveness in babies led by Erica Crespi, an assistant professor in the WSU School of Biological Sciences.

• A study focused on the relationship between COVID-19-related stress and the birth experience, the quality of the mother-infant relationship and mother and infant stress and coping led by Sara Waters, an assistant professor of human development at WSU Vancouver.

Treva Lind can be reached at (509) 459-5439 or