Public Health Campaigns May Increase Anxiety Among New Moms

A pregnant woman looks at her bellyFor 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.

References:

  1. Health information causing new moms anxiety. (2015, July 2). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150702094914.htm
  2. The effects of maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy [PDF]. (n.d.). Maternal Substance Abuse and Child Development Project.

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  • Talia

    Talia

    July 9th, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    Sorry but this is part of what being a mom is all about- being able to process all kinds of info and determining the right fit for you and your child.

  • les

    les

    July 11th, 2015 at 5:44 AM

    I am sure that those who do the PSAs do not do this to cause more anxiety in new moms. They put out these spots in the hope that someone will take something from then and do something positive in their lives as a result of seeing them. Some may not make you comfortable- some do not make me comfortable. But generally I would say that they are worthy causes and deserve to be seen.

  • Sonia

    Sonia

    July 14th, 2015 at 2:26 PM

    They are not judgmental, they are meant to be educational. If you are going to take it personally, then you should just step back and think about the good things that they could be trying to teach you. Don’t look at this as someone trying to tell you the things you need to do better, but how they can help you become the very best parent that you can be.

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