Pandemic has wreaked health havoc on moms with children in pre-school, study reveals

BATON ROUGE, La. — Few have escaped the impact of COVID-19 over the last year. Now, a new study out of Louisiana is shining a light on just how difficult pandemic life has been for the mothers of young pre-school aged children. Researchers say stress among this group skyrocketed during lockdowns, and most reported losing serious sleep.

“Moms of young children are already less likely to get the recommended amount of sleep and physical activity than women who don’t have children. These shortfalls could raise the risk for obesity and poor health, and the lockdown worsened the situation by increasing the levels of stress and household chaos,” says Chelsea Kracht, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in a media release.

“Mothers, especially those with preschoolers, need a lot more than flowers on Mother’s Day,” adds Amanda Staiano, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director, Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory. “There are a number of ways moms can reduce stress, such as taking a break from the news and spending a few minutes unwinding before they go to sleep. But what moms really need is more support, from their family, workplaces and communities. They need systemic change.”

Moms need more resources during a pandemic

Study authors believe their work provides ample evidence that mothers must have access to reliable, affordable childcare options, especially during a viral pandemic. Without any way to achieve some semblance of a work-life balance, millions of mothers’ health will suffer.

Moms who were also working a day job reported dealing with more “chaos” at home. This is to be expected, considering these women had to care for their young kids and maintain their work duties during business hours. Notably, many moms said it helped a whole lot when dad picked up some of the childcare chores.

Researchers surveyed over 1,700 mothers caring for three to five-year-old children in May 2020 for this project. The results include parents from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Only roughly half of surveyed moms were getting enough sleep and physical activity, with more stressed out parents being more likely to be lacking in those departments.

“One of our goals as a research center is to break the generational cycle of obesity,” concludes Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, Ph.D. “Research that shows how much the pandemic affected the health of mothers may help policymakers and providers take steps to better support mothers and avoid a related increase in chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.”

The study appears in the journal Women’s Health. 

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