For many women, pregnancy yields a near-constant fixation on health. Worries about nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle choices are common, and a range of public health campaigns endeavor to ensure pregnant women have the most accurate information. But could these campaigns actually be harmful? A study published in Women’s Studies International Forum suggests that some public health campaigns, particularly those that rely on stereotypes, may increase anxiety during pregnancy. Anxiety is common among pregnant women, and increases the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage.
How Public Health Campaigns Can Cause Anxiety
Professor Jane Fisher and Dr. Heather Rowe, both of Monash University, led the study. The team argues that, while some anxiety is inevitable during pregnancy, public health campaigns that oversimplify complex information can amplify anxiety.
Public health campaigns can have great benefits for women and their families by, for instance, encouraging them to vaccinate their children or seek early help for signs of autism. Rowe and Fisher say that it’s only certain types of public health campaigns that provoke anxiety. Women exposed to single-message campaigns, campaigns that highlight the “maternal instinct,” and those that discuss the risks of pregnancy are especially likely to induce anxiety.
Single-message campaigns, such as those arguing “breast is best,” pressure women into a single choice, potentially provoking feelings of guilt and shame. Campaigns that highlight the perils of pregnancy or parenting, such as outreach campaigns about sudden infant death syndrome, can cause parents to overestimate the likelihood of these frightening conditions. And when campaigns draw upon the notion that motherhood is instinctive or that women are inherently nurturing, women may feel judged or inadequate.
Instead, Rowe and Fisher say, educational campaigns should be evidence-based. Rather than drawing on stereotypes of motherhood, they should highlight the fact that mothering is a skill learned over time. By offering nonjudgmental advice, public health campaigns can reach the widest audience—without inducing needless anxiety.
- Health information causing new moms anxiety. (2015, July 2). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150702094914.htm
- The effects of maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy [PDF]. (n.d.). Maternal Substance Abuse and Child Development Project.
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