Supporting perinatal anxiety in the digital age: an exploration of stressors and support

Harrison, Virginia and Moore, Donna (2019). Supporting perinatal anxiety in the digital age: an exploration of stressors and support. In: The Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology: SRIP, 5-6 Sep 2019, London.


Background: The period surrounding childbirth is one of profound change, which can often be experienced as stressful and overwhelming. Indeed, around 20% of women may experience significant levels of anxiety in the perinatal period. However, most women experiencing perinatal anxiety (PNA) go unrecognised and untreated. Barriers likely include: poor awareness of PNA, perceived stigma, and the reduced flexibility new mothers face. The Internet offers a potentially scalable solution to overcome these obstacles.

Aims and Objectives: This study aimed to qualitatively explore women’s experience of anxiety triggers and support in the perinatal period; and gain insight into what online support is acceptable for women with PNA.

Method: Women who were either pregnant or within one year post-partum were invited to participate in focus groups across the UK. Interviews were transcribed and thematically analysed.

Results: Five key themes emerged in relation to women’s experience with PNA: holding unrealistic expectations of birth and motherhood; fear of judgement and pressure to be the ‘perfect mum’; the importance of peer support; poor maternal confidence; and a lack of mental health support and information. Overall, women felt these issues could be addressed via online support.

Interpretation/Discussion: Perinatal women felt under-supported and poorly prepared for motherhood. A mismatch between their expectations, and the reality of their experience was the primary source of their anxiety. Furthermore, stigma associated with PNA may have exacerbated these issues and led to help-seeking avoidance. Delivering evidence-based information and interventions online may provide a solution that is acceptable to this cohort.

Conclusions: Women identified a number of PNA triggers and gaps in current support. Online methods could address these issues through the delivery of realistic birth and motherhood information, and providing psychoeducation about PNA symptoms and management. Help-seeking behaviours and stigma-reduction may be achieved through the inclusion of authentic peer experiences.

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