LONDON, ONT -- Pregnancy and birth is stressful at the best of times, but during a pandemic the stress can be elevated.

“I think one of the biggest stresses and fears right now is related to the birth itself," says assistant professor at Western University Dr. Emma Duerden.

Duerden is leading a research study that will examine pregnancy stress, birth outcomes and mental health issues that may arise for mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In terms of the birth, child development, maternal mental health, we really want to identify these key factors and be able to relate it to community based health practitioners.”

To do so, the research team is hoping to recruit approximately 200,000 mothers world-wide to participate in an online program that will examine these factors.

The health and wellness factors surrounding pregnancy and birth are already being considered at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), as it works towards keeping mother and baby safe during the pandemic.

“We want people to feel safe in coming to the hospital and to know this is the safest place for them to come and have their baby," says chief of obstetrics and gynaecology at LHSC, Dr. Tracey Crumley.

The hospital has practiced birthing simulations and scenarios surrounding COVID-19 and has implemented some safety restrictions leading up to the delivery date.

“So we screen all the patients to see what their risks are like, and if they are healthy and well we will minimize number of visits they will need to have as they come to the hospital.”

Crumley says when it comes to labour and delivery, one person is allowed in the room during a vaginal birth, but not if it is a c-section, which she understands can be emotionally difficult for patients and their families.

“It’s still a very safe place to be and we are very well screened and our staff is ready to support you through this even though it’s a scarier time.”

Of course all the safety measures and restrictions can lead to elevated stress so that’s why the team at Western is studying the effects. So far, 500 women have already been recruited for the study.