By Cara A. Davidson
Although the impacts of COVID-19 continue to be felt on a global scale, not everyone is experiencing this pandemic in the same way. This is especially true for women, who are more likely to be working on the frontlines, shouldering greater domestic burdens, and experiencing increased vulnerability to intimate partner violence during lockdown . However, the gender differences don’t end there. One of the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic is pregnant women.
Pregnant women around the world are experiencing elevated concerns and anxiety due to COVID-19 and its upheaval of everyday life. Increased stress levels during pregnancy are well-evidenced to be associated with harmful side effects, including mental illness, preterm labour, low birth weight, and low APGAR scores .
As such, it is reasonable to expect that there may be poorer maternal and infant health outcomes during and following the pandemic. Furthermore, some women are avoiding important appointments with their physicians due to fears of contracting the virus, which has the potential to further exacerbate existing health concerns .
In Japan, COVID-19 has had a particularly strong impact on daily life. The country has entered a national state of emergency, cracking down on travel and permitting local authorities to request residents to self-quarantine . While necessary to combat the spread of the virus, these measures have resulted in unintended consequences for pregnant residents.
Satogaeri is a traditional Japanese maternity practice where women return to their hometown to deliver in order to secure familial perinatal support. To participate, women register in hometown clinics several months prior to giving birth and relocate by the last month of pregnancy .
Travel restrictions coupled with an increased risk of infection have disempowered women from practicing satogaeri as they can no longer relocate, or choose not to risk relocation . Unfortunately, satogaeri is a practice that provides essential social support and is intrinsically meaningful. Now, unable to participate in this cultural practice, Japanese women are particularly vulnerable to increased stress and its pernicious health effects on both mother and child.
In the midst of a pandemic, life doesn’t stop. Women continue to become pregnant, carry babies, and deliver them in spite of COVID-19 and its impacts. It is imperative to recognize that although we all feel the effects of COVID-19, there are especially vulnerable groups in need of special consideration to lead healthy lives. Expecting mothers in Japan are but one of these populations.