Talk to Your Nurse About Perinatal Anxiety

Irritability, loss of sleep, racing thoughts, and a desire for control are just a few of the symptoms that define perinatal anxiety, which occurs during pregnancy and after childbirth for between 10 and 20 percent of pregnant people (Gennaro et al., 2020). Perinatal anxiety may influence infant temperament and birth weight, as well as your experience of pregnancy and postpartum (Gandomi et al., 2022). Because it might feel easier to confide in a nurse than other care providers, nurses are well-situated to identify signs and symptoms. Plus, nurses can provide perinatal mental health education to you and help you get support and treatment. If you’re pregnant and have concerns about your mental health, the nurse at your provider’s office is a good person to speak to first.

Nursing care for perinatal anxiety should include screening all pregnant and postpartum people, providing education to counter the effects of perinatal anxiety, and referring to community resources, such as websites and helplines.

To treat perinatal anxiety, healthcare professionals must first identify it. Nurses can administer screening tools, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which has questions that also assess anxiety symptoms, as part of obstetrics or primary care visits (Gennaro et al., 2020). Screening is low risk, and Gennaro et al. (2020) point out that professional organizations, such as the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, recommend universal screening of all pregnant and postpartum people. Screening must also be followed by a discussion about treatment with the nurse and the provider. Nurses can advocate for you to receive a mental health screen, as well as appropriate post-screening education and care.

In Iran, Gandomi et al. (2022) designed an intervention in which first-time pregnant women met with a midwife in groups of eight for eight educational sessions. They discussed information about pregnancy anxiety, birth, breastfeeding, support, relaxation, and tools to increase self-awareness and feelings of self-efficacy—the confidence someone feels about their ability to do something. Before the intervention, anxiety was similar in a group of 60 pregnant people; however, anxiety decreased in the 30 participants who received the intervention and increased in the 30 pregnant people who did not attend the educational sessions. The focus on cultivating self-efficacy in this intervention could be incorporated by nurses when offering childbirth education classes throughout the world. Look around—something like these classes may be offered in your area.

The Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) National Helpline is staffed by professional counselors and peer volunteers and available to anyone in Australia between 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on weekdays (Biggs et al. 2018). PANDA also hosts a website with mental health support information for expectant and new parents, as well as training and tips for professionals supporting new families. In an analysis of callers’ demographics and their reasons for calling, Biggs et al. (2018) found that 22 percent were referred by a healthcare worker, and that they contact the helpline for a variety of reasons, including not feeling right and having regrets around reproductive choices. Helplines and online resources help to fill care gaps that arise when it’s difficult for pregnant people and new parents to get out of the house for appointments. Ask the nurse at your provider’s office for tips on hotlines accessible in your area. In the US, you can contact 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS with perinatal mental health concerns.

Up to 20 percent of pregnant or postpartum individuals will experience perinatal anxiety, and nurses can perform screening and identify signs and symptoms. Nurses also act as educators of their clients, via teaching at scheduled appointments, answering phone calls, and in childbirth education settings, where they can decrease clients’ anxiety by encouraging self-efficacy. Nurses can also be a source of information and refer clients to relevant community resources, such as websites and helplines. Nurses are ideally positioned to help patients with perinatal anxiety, so talk to a nurse today.

  1. Biggs, L. J., McLachlan, H. L., Shafiei, T., Liamputtong, P., & Forster, D. A. (2019). ‘I need help’: Reasons new and re-engaging callers contact the PANDA-Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia National Helpline. Health & social care in the community. doi:10.1111/hsc.12688
  2. Gandomi, N., Sharifzadeh, G., Torshizi, M., & Norozi, E. (2022). The effect of educational intervention based on self-efficacy theory on pregnancy anxiety and childbirth outcomes among Iranian primiparous women. Journal of education and health promotion. doi:10.4103/jehp.jehp1548_20
  3. Gennaro, S., OʼConnor, C., McKay, E. A., Gibeau, A., Aviles, M., Hoying, J., & Melnyk, B. M. (2020). Perinatal Anxiety and Depression in Minority Women. The American journal of maternal child nursing. doi:10.1097/NMC.0000000000000611
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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