A very, very lonely, unmagical time. The lived experience of perinatal anxiety: A longitudinal interpretative phenomenological analysis

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Problem: Minimal longitudinal qualitative evidence examining lived experience of anxiety over the perinatal continuum limits holistic understanding of the course of antenatal and postnatal anxiety.

Background: Perinatal anxiety has deleterious effects on the mother and infant and is more commonly experienced yet less well investigated than perinatal depression.

Aim and method: To explore women's experiences living with perinatal anxiety to increase understanding of the condition; inform support given by midwives and other health professionals and provide practice, education, and research recommendations. Five women were interviewed at three timepoints, producing 15 datasets. Data was analysed using Longitudinal Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

Findings: Nine Group Experiential Themes emerged: the anxious mother, transformation, sets of ears and the anxious pregnancy (antenatal); baby as external focus, returning to oneself and the emotional unknown (early postnatal); and moving on, and shifting sands (late postnatal). Three Longitudinal Experiential Concepts explicated lived experience over time: maternal eyes, transforming existence, and emotional kaleidoscope. The lived experience of perinatal anxiety was revealed as socially constructed, with relationships with self, others, and the world key. The collision between anxiety and motherhood as social constructs provides perinatal anxiety with its unique characteristics.

Conclusion: Midwives and other healthcare professionals should understand the significance of perinatal anxiety, enabling disclosure of stigmatising and uncomfortable feelings without judgement. Research examining whether perinatal specific screening tools should be used by midwives and exploring the relationship between perinatal anxiety and depression is recommended. Education for clinicians on the significance of perinatal anxiety is essential. 
Original languageEnglish
Article number104070
Early online date17 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jun 2024

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