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Simplistic messages cause mums anxiety: research

Researchers have identified a link between perinatal anxiety and the public health campaigns mothers are exposed to immediately before and after they give birth.

In a paper in the Women’s Studies International Forum, Dr Heather Rowe and professor Jane Fisher, from Monash University, looked into the causes of perinatal anxiety. Postnatal depression awareness group The Gidget Foundation estimates perinatal anxiety affects 1 in 7 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers. The foundation also stated this condition could manifest itself in symptoms such as low moods that last for two weeks or more, a chronic lack of enjoyment or pleasure, and the inability to control strong, negative emotions.

Rowe and Fisher have found several themes underpin the causes of perinatal anxiety. These include messages and social norms about women’s maternal image, single-message health promotion campaigns, evidence-based decision-making and the concept of risk. Rowe said the researchers concluded public health messages could be unnecessarily unrealistic and distressing.

“Public health campaigns with a strict single message such as ‘breast is best’ can make women feel pressured, and can lead them to feel guilty and ashamed if they make an informed choice not to breastfeed,” Rowe said. “Similarly, the Safe Sleep Space campaign to prevent sudden infant death syndrome can cause parents to over-estimate the likelihood of SIDS and lead them to be excessively watchful and worried.”

Rowe says public health campaigns should be adjusted to be evidence-based and non-judgemental, to ensure women feel supported and valued. She also said policymakers and health professionals must correct the stereotype that mothering is instinctive and replace this with the message that motherhood is a set of learned skills that one develops over time.

“By providing realistic and evidence-based information, health professionals can help challenge the unhelpful messages that bombard women in pregnancy and motherhood, and benefit both mother and child,” Rowe said.

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