News Release 

Pandemic poses health risk to moms of preschoolers

Lockdown dramatically increased stress levels, sleep loss

Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Research News

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana - Stress levels of moms with preschoolers soared during the pandemic, with twice as many of the mothers reporting they lost sleep during the COVID-19 outbreak than before it.

"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," said Chelsea Kracht, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The bottom line? "Mothers, especially those with preschoolers, need a lot more than flowers on Mother's Day," said 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."

Dr. Kracht agreed.

The study findings support the necessity of providing mothers with reliable, affordable childcare options and a clear path to maintaining a healthy work-life balance, she said.

Mothers who worked remotely during the COVID-19 shutdown reported more household chaos than those who were not teleworking, Dr. Kracht said. This is likely because the first group of mothers had to supervise their children's remote schooling and telework at the same time.

Having fathers or other family members take on some of the childcare and housework would help mothers balance the demands of their careers and personal lives, she said.

The new study looked at the relationship between household chaos -- disorder, noise, and crowding - stress, physical activity and sleep for moms. Researchers surveyed more than 1,700 mothers of 3-to-5-year-olds during May 2020. Moms in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. participated. The study was published in the scientific journal Women's Health.

Around half of the mothers in the study got the recommended amount of sleep and physical activity. Mothers with higher stress levels were far less likely to meet the sleep or physical activity guidelines.

"One of our goals as a research center is to break the generational cycle of obesity," said 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."

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This research was supported, in part, by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number T32DK064584, and the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers 2P30DK072476, which funds the Nutrition Obesity Research Center, and U54GM104940, which funds the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on coping with stress, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips.

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is affiliated with Louisiana State University. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more information, see http://www.pbrc.edu.

Pennington Biomedical Research Center
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