Pregnant in a pandemic? If you’re stressed, there’s help



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Monique Robinson, Telethon Kids Institute

If you’re pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be feeling a unique type of stress.

You might be uncertain about how an infection could affect your unborn baby. That’s over and above the stress you might be feeling about the pregnancy itself, and its impact on your relationship, job or lifestyle.

But there’s professional support to help you manage these stresses. And there’s lots you can do at home to ease your worries.




Read more:
Coronavirus while pregnant or giving birth: here’s what you need to know


How will the coronavirus affect my unborn baby?

One of the first studies to look at the effect of coronavirus infection while pregnant found the health of unborn babies or newborns of women infected in their final trimester did not differ to those expected with uninfected pregnancies.

But this small study, from Wuhan in China, was rushed to publication and didn’t look at infection earlier in pregnancy.

A review of 41 pregnancies complicated by COVID-19, as well as another 38 complicated by other coronaviruses (SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome) gave us more information.

It found a small but significant increase in preterm birth (before 37 weeks’ gestation) in COVID-19 pregnancies.

However, the researchers couldn’t differentiate between spontaneous preterm birth and babies who were induced to arrive before 37 weeks.

So far, the evidence of harm to you or your unborn baby is limited, and should not cause concern.

Pregnancy can be stressful anyway

Separate to the fear of being infected with COVID-19 is the fear and stress related to simply living through the pandemic while pregnant.

Pregnancy can often be stressful as lifestyle, relationship and income changes create challenges for families.

Pregnancy can be stressful at the best of times.
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Worries about the baby’s health are present in any pregnancy, but adding concerns of what infection would mean for the unborn child can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

Before the pandemic, about 20% of women had a clinical anxiety disorder (for example, generalised anxiety, specific phobia) while pregnant.

We now have some early indicators of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting that statistic.




Read more:
Health Check: can stress during pregnancy harm my baby?


And when you add the pandemic into the mix

Canadian researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 pregnant women in April 2020 (in research yet to be peer-reviewed). They found 57% of pregnant women showed anxiety symptoms but 68% reported an increase in pregnancy-specific anxiety.

Only one of the 1,987 participants had a confirmed case of COVID-19, with another 25 cases suspected but not confirmed. So, for most participants, just being pregnant during the pandemic (without being infected) led to three times as many women being anxious during the pandemic than before it.




Read more:
Coronavirus with a baby: what you need to know to prepare and respond


Pregnant women are also concerned about how the pandemic will affect their maternity care, including who can visit them in hospital and after the birth of their baby.

A review of pregnancy stress during previous infectious disease outbreaks, including SARS, MERS, Ebola and Zika, found that as well as feeling vulnerable, pregnant women were anxious about disruption to pre- and postnatal care, and exposure to treatments not fully tested in pregnancy.

We can’t avoid stress, but we can manage it

We know stress during pregnancy has been linked to a range of poor outcomes for the child, such as pre-term birth, being more susceptible to disease, and behavioural problems through childhood.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms in pregnant women following the September 11 attacks and various natural disasters have significantly affected both emotional and cognitive development in children later in childhood.

But there is good news. While we cannot avoid the stress that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic, we can manage it.




Read more:
Coronavirus is stressful. Here are some ways to cope with the anxiety


In fact, it’s not necessarily the stressful event itself that can lead to poor outcomes. It’s how a pregnant woman assesses the stress of the event and how she chooses to move forward that might determine what happens to her child.

So, if we can manage our stress and not let it overwhelm us, we may be able to avoid the negative consequences of stress in pregnancy with benefits right through our children’s lives.

Here’s what you can do

Social support is key for managing stress, but social distancing makes it harder to gather with the friends and loved ones who might typically provide that support.

Still, there are many online pregnancy support and birth groups targeted to particular stages of pregnancy. These could provide reassurance and a sense of belonging while the outside world looks different.

You can still exercise outside. But if you prefer to exercise at home, there are many online pregnancy yoga and pilates classes.

Yoga and pilates classes for pregnant women are available online.
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You can practise guided relaxation and meditation with an app. And if you can work from home, this might give you some much-needed flexibility.

You can also use local, evidence-based telehealth to access mental health care. There are also many free, online programs providing self-guided mental health support.

As long as the COVID-19 pandemic is here, with its accompanying uncertainty, we can best focus on limiting the long-term effects of stress on our mothers, babies and families.The Conversation

Monique Robinson, NHMRC Early Career Fellow, Telethon Kids Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Money for social housing, not home buyers grants, is the key to construction stimulus


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute

There’s no doubt Australia’s construction industry is facing tough times. COVID-19 has caused migration to slow to a trickle. Some 2.6 million Australians have either lost their jobs or had their hours cut in the past two months. Many economists expect property prices to fall.

It all adds up to fewer homes being built in the coming months. That means fewer jobs in the construction industry, which employs nearly one in 10 Australians. The sector has already lost nearly 7% of its workforce since March.

The Morrison Government is set to anounce a stimulus package for the construction sector as soon as this week. But what should it include?




Read more:
Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first


More home-buyer grants on the way

The federal government has signalled it will offer cash grants of at least A$20,000 to buyers of newly built homes. Unlike past schemes that have targeted first home buyers, it seems these new grants will be available to everyone including upsizers and investors. Grants may also be extended to renovations.

Large handouts would prompt some more residential construction by encouraging some people to bring forward their home purchases. It’s why in 2008 the Rudd government tripled the first home buyer grant to A$21,000 for new homes in response to the Global Financial Crisis.

But under such schemes, governments also end up giving grants to people who would have bought a home anyway. Even the more pessimistic industry forecasts expect 110,000 homes to be built in Australia next year. Giving A$20,000 to all of these home buyers would cost A$2.2 billion without adding a single construction job. Grants of A$40,000 would double the bill.

That’s a lot of spending for little economic gain.

Nor do grants to home buyers actually make housing more affordable. They are typically passed through into higher house prices, which benefits sellers more than buyers. In this case, that is likely to include developers eager to clear their existing stock of both newly and nearly built homes.




Read more:
The brutal truth on housing. Someone has to lose in order for first homebuyers to win


Cash grants for renovations would likely hit the economy quicker since they don’t necessarily require building approvals. But they bring their own problems. Grants will likely see in-demand tradies raise their prices, especially if the government is effectively paying for most of the work done. It will be also be harder for officials administering the scheme to determine if the work has been done before paying out the money.

Nor is it clear the renovation sector needs further stimulus: reports suggest COVID-19 is driving a renovation boom across many parts of Australia. Research by credit bureau Illion and economic consultancy AlphaBeta shows spending on home improvements is already 33% higher than pre-COVID levels.

There’s a better option

There’s a better way to support residential construction without providing such big windfalls to developers: fund the building of more social housing.

Social housing – where rents are typically capped at no more than 30% of household income – provides a safety net to vulnerable Australians.

In particular, the Morrison government should repeat another GFC-era policy, the Social Housing Initiative, under which 19,500 social housing units were built and another 80,000 refurbished over two years, at a cost of A$5.2 billion.

Under the initiative the federal government funded the states to build social housing units directly or contract community housing providers to act as housing developers

Public residential construction approvals spiked within months of the announcement.



Building 30,000 new social housing units today would cost between A$10 billion an A$15 billion. Because state governments and community housing providers won’t have to worry about finance, marketing and sales, they’ll be able to get to work building homes much quicker than the private sector.

The boost to the economy would be pretty immediate.

Just as important, building social housing would also help tackle the growing scourge of homelessness. At the most recent Census (2016), more than 116,000 people were homeless, up from 90,000 a decade earlier. COVID-19 has shown us that if we let people live in unhealthy conditions it can help spread disease – affecting everybody’s health.




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Coronavirus lays bare 5 big housing system flaws to be fixed


The drivers of homelessness are complex. Nonetheless the best Australian evidence and international experience shows social housing substantially reduces tenants’ risk of homelessness. But Australia’s stagnating social housing stock means there is little “flow” of social housing available for people whose lives take a big turn for the worse.

Funding social housing won’t boost house prices or provide windfalls for developers. It will do more to keep construction workers on the job, while also helping some of our most vulnerable Australians.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s first service sector recession will be unlike those that have gone before it



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Isaac Gross, Monash University

Australia is on the brink of its first recession in almost 30 years.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will deliver the official economic growth figure for the March quarter on Wednesday.

If it is negative (as is likely because of the downturn and the bushfires, but not guaranteed because of the surge in spending as Australians stocked up on essentials in March) and is then followed by another negative result in the June quarter (which is all but certain) Australia will be in what some people regard as a technical recession.

But the technicalities don’t matter. Close to 20% of Australia’s labour force is either unemployed or underemployed, something that dwarfs previous recessions.

Data already released suggests it will be different in other ways; important ones with important implications.

It will be our first “service sector” recession.

Recessions are usually defined by large falls in investment; in new cars, new houses and new businesses.




Read more:
Which jobs are most at risk from the coronavirus shutdown? 


As a result, in the early 1990s recession construction and manufacturing businesses were devastated. By contrast, employment in social services, education and food services continued to grow throughout the recession.

This time will be different.

Between March 14 and May 2 some 27% of the jobs in the accommodation and food services industry vanished, 19% of the jobs in the arts and recreation industry, and 11% of the jobs in professional and technical services – all well above the 6.5% and 7% of jobs lost in construction and manufacturing.


Jobs lost by industry, March 14 to May 2
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6160.0.55.001 – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 2 May 2020

The closure of Australia’s borders coupled with the ongoing fear of infection, creates the risk that service sector job losses will continue to grow.

Even when the recession is over, they won’t bounce back in the way that manufacturing and construction jobs might have.

When previous recession temporarily slowed demand for things such as cars and buildings, the pent-up demand led to a surge in sales when incomes recovered.




Read more:
Unlocking Australia: What can benefit-cost analysis tell us?


But services are harder to store over time. Someone who skips the hairdresser for a year won’t buy a year’s worth of haircuts when conditions improve.

Nor will someone who stops going to pubs (probably) buy six months worth of drinks when pubs reopen.

It means most service sector businesses can’t expect a quick rebound. Four out of every five employed Australians work in services.

Not your grandparent’s recession

The usual playbook for dealing with a recession is to target the sectors most affected. This has meant rolling out big infrastructure projects that can hire newly-unemployed construction workers, and cutting taxes to encourage businesses to expand and hire.

But that strategy won’t be as effective this time. The tour guides and massage therapists whose service sector jobs have been destroyed are ill-suited to building high-speed trains.

And a lot of infrastructure programs are designed on the basis that Australia’s population would continue to expand. With almost two thirds of Australia’s population growth driven by overseas migration and borders now closed, that is no longer certain. Many projects that were previously considered worthwhile may no longer stack up.

The government will have to focus its recovery programs on those sectors hardest hit. For some, this will be straightforward.




Read more:
Look beyond a silver bullet train for stimulus


The government already plays a large role in the education industry. Universities could have their funding boosted to make up for the shortfall of international students, and domestic students should be encouraged to enrol in virtual courses to improve their skills.

For some other service industries, the government should extend JobKeeper to provide continuing assistance after it is due to end in September. Social distancing requirements are likely to limit the operations of businesses such as cinemas and theatres some time. Tourism will also remain depressed as long as our borders remains closed.

Despite the focus on mining and manufacturing in our economic discourse, Australia’s economy is overwhelmingly dominated by services.

If the government wants to stop this recession from turning into a depression, it will have to redirect its policy playbook toward services.The Conversation

Isaac Gross, Lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The coronavirus pandemic is boosting the big tech transformation to warp speed


Zac Rogers, Flinders University

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up changes that were already happening across society, from remote learning and work to e-health, supply chains and logistics, policing, welfare and beyond. Big tech companies have not hesitated to make the most of the crisis.

In New York for example, former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt is leading a panel tasked with transforming the city after the pandemic, “focused on telehealth, remote learning, and broadband”. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has also been called in, to help create “a smarter education system”.

The government, health, education and defence sectors have long been prime targets for “digital disruption”. The American business expert Scott Galloway and others have argued they are irresistible pools of demand for the big tech firms.

As author and activist Naomi Klein writes, changes in these and other areas of our lives are about to see “a warp-speed acceleration”.

All these transformations will follow a similar model: using automated platforms to gather and analyse data via online surveillance, then using it to predict and intervene in human behaviour.




Read more:
Explainer: what is surveillance capitalism and how does it shape our economy?


The control revolution

The changes now under way are the latest phase of a socio-technical transformation that sociologist James Beniger, writing in the 1980s, called a “control revolution”. This revolution began with the use of electronic systems for information gathering and communication to facilitate mass production and distribution of goods in the 19th century.

After World War II the revolution accelerated as governments and industry began to embrace cybernetics, the scientific study of control and communication. Even before COVID-19, we were already in the “reflexive phase” of the control revolution, in which big data and predictive technologies have been turned to the goal of automating human behaviour.

The next phase is what we might call the “uberisation of everything”: replacing existing institutions and processes of government with computational code, in the same way Uber replaced government-regulated taxi systems with a smartphone app.




Read more:
The ‘Uberisation’ of work is driving people to co-operatives


Information economics

Beginning in the 1940s, the work of information theory pioneer Claude Shannon had a deep effect on economists, who saw analogies between signals in electrical circuits and many systems in society. Chief among these new information economists was Leonid Hurwicz, winner of a 2007 Nobel Prize for his work on “mechanism design theory”.

Information theorist Claude Shannon also conducted early experiments in artificial intelligence, including the creation of a maze-solving mechanical mouse.
Bell Labs

Economists have pursued analogies between human and mechanical systems ever since, in part because they lend themselves to modelling, calculation and prediction.

These analogies helped usher in a new economic orthodoxy formed around the ideas of F.A. Hayek, who believed the problem of allocating resources in society was best understood in terms of information processing.

By the 1960s, Hayek had come to view thinking individuals as almost superfluous to the operation of the economy. A better way to allocate resources was to leave decisions to “the market”, which he saw as an omniscient information processor.

Putting information-processing first turned economics on its head. The economic historians Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah argue economists moved from “ensuring markets give people what they want” to insisting they can make markets produce “any desired outcome regardless of what people want”.

By the 1990s this orthodoxy was triumphant across much of the world. By the late 2000s it was so deeply enmeshed that even the global financial crisis – a market failure of catastrophic proportions – could not dislodge it.




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We should all beware a resurgent financial sector


Market society

This orthodoxy holds that if information markets make for efficient resource allocation, it makes sense to put them in charge. We’ve seen many kinds of decisions turned over to automated data-driven markets, designed as auctions.

Online advertising illustrates how this works. First, the data generated by each visitor to a page is gathered, analysed and categorised, with each category acquiring a predictive probability of a given behaviour: buying a given product or service.

Then an automated auction occurs at speed as a web page is loading, matching these behavioural probabilities with clients’ products and services. The goal is to “nudge” the user’s behaviour. As Douglas Rushkoff explains, someone in a category that is 80% likely to do a certain thing might be manipulated up to 85% or 90% if they are shown the right ad.




Read more:
Is it time to regulate targeted ads and the web giants that profit from them?


This model is being scaled up to treat society as a whole as a vast signalling device. All human behaviour can be taken as a bid in an invisible auction that aims to optimise resource allocation.

To gather the bids, however, the market needs ever greater awareness of human behaviour. That means total surveillance is here to stay, and will get more intense and pervasive.

Growing surveillance combined with algorithmic interventions in human behaviour constrain our choices to an ever greater extent. Being nudged from an 80% to an 85% chance of doing something might seem innocuous, but that diminishing 20% of unpredictability is the site of human creativity, learning, discovery and choice. Becoming more predictable also means becoming more fragile.

In praise of obscurity

The pandemic has pushed many of us into doing even more by digital means, hitting fast-forward on the growth of surveillance and algorithmic influence, bringing more and more human behaviour into the realm of statistical probability and manipulation.

Concerns about total surveillance are often couched as discussions of privacy, but now is the time to think about the importance of obscurity. Obscurity moves beyond questions of privacy and anonymity to the issue, as Matthew Crawford identifies, of our “qualitative experience of institutional authority”. Obscurity is a buffer zone – a space to be an unobserved, uncategorised, unoptimised human – from which a citizen can enact her democratic rights.

The onrush of digitisation caused by the pandemic may have a positive effect, if the body politic senses the urgency of coming to terms with the widening gap between fast-moving technology and its institutions.

The algorithmic market, left to its optimisation function, may well eventually come to see obscurity an act of economic terrorism. Such an approach cannot form the basis of institutional authority in a democracy. It’s time to address the real implications of digital technology.




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A ‘coup des gens’ is underway – and we’re increasingly living under the regime of the algorithm


The Conversation


Zac Rogers, Research Lead, Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security, and Governance, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A four-day working week could be the shot in the arm post-coronavirus tourism needs



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Jarrod Haar, Auckland University of Technology

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said recently, “I’ve heard lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week”, she inevitably ignited debate.

Ardern was not, as some critics seemed to assume, just flying a kite. She was responding to various ideas about how to boost domestic tourism. Like the hospitality industry, tourism has been economically ravaged by the COVID-19 lockdown, so her remarks received a lot of coverage.

But Ardern added a caveat that received rather less attention: “Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees.”

This suggests it is unlikely to become official government policy, but rather something businesses might choose to adopt if it made sense.

The idea has already gained traction in Australia and America, highlighting a widespread interest in new ways of organising work. Ultimately, Ardern was suggesting the end of lockdown might present organisations with a chance to do things differently.

But could it work? How would organisations do it? And what would be the benefits?

One company has shown the way already

In New Zealand, the four-day week was pioneered in 2018 by Andrew Barnes, now a champion of the concept after trialling and then adopting it for his finance company, Perpetual Guardian. Employees now work a four-day week on their previous five-day salary. They work normal eight-hour days, not simply longer hours to make up a normal 40-hour week.




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Working four-day weeks for five days’ pay? Research shows it pays off


Perpetual Guardian calls it the “100-80-100” model: 100% productivity for 80% time at 100% salary.

Research showed employees reported significantly better well-being than before the trial, including a better work-life balance and lower job stress. They were more engaged and reported higher job satisfaction.

Managers reported the same level of productivity. Furthermore, management found their teams were more creative, more helpful, and provided better customer service.

Overall it was a win for employees and their employer.

Perpetual Guardian’s Andrew Barnes.
Author provided

From my own research I’ve identified a few key factors that determine success. Firstly, it needs leadership support. Having a leader who can champion the adoption of a four-day trial is vital.

Barnes recommends a trial as the first step to discovering whether it is an option for your organisation or not. As evidence of the benefits builds (for example, Microsoft in Japan reported a 40% increase in productivity), employees might want to lobby their managers to give it a go.

Employee engagement is vital

My research also showed employees are central to making a four-day week work. Ultimately they have to create better ways to work – for example, collectively identifying what was previously wasted time and seeking solutions. In one case, a team told me they reduced a two-hour weekly meeting to 30 minutes a fortnight.




Read more:
The coronavirus survival challenge for NZ tourism: affordability and sustainability


How to reschedule the week is another factor: organisations might adopt a fixed day off – such as Melbourne firm Versa, which chose Wednesday. Or they might rotate the day off among team members.

The latter approach requires a strong creative focus on maintaining team productivity. But there is no one way to make it work. While Perpetual Guardian operates 32-hour weeks, Versa works a 37.5-hour week in four days.

What is most important is that workers are empowered to think about productivity and wastage and to make their work more efficient and effective. Even if an organisation trials the four-day week but chooses not to adopt it, it will still gain useful insights into working methods and productivity.

Beyond the benefits to employers (more focused and attentive staff, better customer relations) and employees (enhanced well-being and engagement), there are potentially wider social benefits too.

More leisure time equals greater opportunity

Reduced commuting times due to fewer days in the office mean fewer cars on the road, less congestion and lower CO₂ emissions. Offices use less power and, if an organisation is growing, potentially feel less pressure to expand if a rotating day off is in place.

If supporting tourism is the goal, business owners might be encouraged to close for one day a week, ideally a Friday or Monday, perhaps in split shifts if they need to remain operating five days a week. This would maximise people’s ability to plan a three-day weekend of travel – potentially within a “trans-Tasman bubble”.




Read more:
Why a trans-Tasman travel bubble makes a lot of sense for Australia and New Zealand


Were Australian organisations to adopt a four-day week too it could significantly increase two-way traffic, enhancing both economies.

Paying workers 100% of their salary for 80% of a traditional working week while maintaining productivity would, in theory at least, increase opportunities for discretionary spending.

Combined with a patriotic call to use the extra time to support hospitality and tourism, it could align with the prime minister’s desire to find innovative ways to stimulate economic activity.

Healthier, happier and more productive workers helping other businesses stay viable? That sounds like a win-win for all.The Conversation

Jarrod Haar, Professor of Human Resource Management, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is it OK to drink coffee while pregnant? We asked 5 experts



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Tessa Ogle, The Conversation

There are so many dos and don’ts associated with pregnancy it can be hard to keep up with them. Coffee is an everyday staple for many people, so it is not surprising women seek reassurance this stimulant is safe during pregnancy.

With guidelines differing between and within countries it can be tricky to assess the risks of having a coffee or two.

We asked five experts whether it’s OK to drink coffee while pregnant.

Four out of five experts said yes

But they all had a pretty big caveat. It’s safe provided it’s consumed in moderation.

It’s also important to remember things like tea, chocolate and energy drinks also contain caffeine, so you’ll need to take that into account when estimating your daily intake.

Here are the experts’ detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: tessa.ogle@theconversation.edu.auThe Conversation


Tessa Ogle, Assistant Editor, Health + Medicine & Editorial Assistant, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.