Repetitive negative thinking in the perinatal period and its relationship with anxiety and depression

Moulds, Michelle L; Bisby, Madelyne A; Black, Melissa J; Jones, Katie; Harrison, Virginia; Hirsch, Colette R and Newby, Jill M (2022). Repetitive negative thinking in the perinatal period and its relationship with anxiety and depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 311 pp. 446–462.



Background: Rumination and worry represent two types of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), and their predictive and maintaining roles are well-established in depression and anxiety, respectively. Furthermore, there is an emerging literature on the link between RNT and psychological wellbeing in the perinatal period.

Methods: We conducted a scoping review of studies that have investigated the relationship between RNT and perinatal depression and anxiety. We identified 87 papers eligible for inclusion in the review; they included cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, as well as treatment evaluations (pilot trials and randomised controlled trials).

Results: Cross-sectional studies provided evidence of an association between RNT (i.e., rumination and worry) and depression and anxiety, in both pregnancy and postpartum. Longitudinal findings were mixed. Whilst antenatal worry consistently predicted subsequent depression and anxiety (both later in pregnancy and postpartum), rumination did not consistently predict depression. However, there was some evidence that RNT interacted with other processes to predict later psychopathology. Three randomised controlled trials evaluated whether psychological treatments reduce RNT in the perinatal period, only one of which included a clinical sample.

Limitations: No experimental investigations were eligible for inclusion in the review.

Conclusions: Further studies are needed to further our understanding of the nature and role of RNT in pregnancy and postpartum, and its consequences for maternal mental health. These include (but are not limited to) experimental investigations, studies with large clinical samples, and RCTs evaluating the effectiveness of psychological interventions targeting RNT to prevent and treat perinatal depression and anxiety.

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