UBC study looking for volunteers

Study will investigate prevalence of anxiety disorders in new mothers

  • Nov. 29, 2015 5:00 a.m.

A UBC research study, phase two of the Mother-Wellness Project, will investigate the prevalence of anxiety disorders and unwanted thoughts of infant harm in new mothers during the perinatal period before and after birth.

The study is looking for 1,100 pregnant woman to participate in the research effort from across B.C., including the Central Okanagan.

The research effort is being headed up by Nichole Fairbrother, a certified cognitive-behaviour therapist and assistant professor with the UBC department of psychiatry. Fairbrother says in contrast to the large amount of research that has been done on postpartum depression, little attention has been given to perinatal anxiety disorders.

However, there is some evidence that suggests that the early postpartum period is a time that increases the risk of developing anxiety disorders or making the symptoms worse for women who had previously had anxiety disorders. The prevalence of perinatal anxiety disorders remains unclear.We do know that unwanted, intrusive thoughts of harm coming to one’s infant are experienceduniversally by new mothers, and close to half of all new mothers experience unwanted, intrusivethoughts of harming their infant, explains Fairbrother.

Both types of harm thoughts (accidental and intentional) can be extremely upsetting to the women who experience them; provoking fears about their mental stability and ability to mother.

Perinatal caregivers often worry that these thoughts may lead to child abuse oraggressive parenting.

However, the evidence suggests that the occurrence of these thoughts is normal,and is much more likely to lead to the development and/or worsening of obsessive compulsive disorder, a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder, than to child harm.

Responding appropriately to women who report these kinds of thoughts is critical for mothers and theirinfants. Studies to address this problem have yet to appear in the peer reviewed literature.

The key objectives of this research are to:

1. Document the prevalence of perinatal anxiety disorders and maternal postpartum thoughts of infantrelatedharm.

2. Determine if maternal thoughts of intentional harm predict infant harming behaviours.

3. Determine if maternal thoughts of harm predict postpartum OCD among women.

4. Determine if there is an increase in the prevalence of OCD from pregnancy to early postpartum.

Women who agree to participate in the research will be given questionnaires and aninterview at 33 weeks gestation, and again at one and three months postpartum. Prenatal questionnaires will assess demographic information, reproductive history, parenting attitudes, beliefs about thoughts, obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms, social support and current mood. The prenatal interview will be conducted by phone and will include questions about mood and anxiety symptoms. Postpartum questionnaires will additionally assess birth information and maternal sleep. Postpartum interviews will assess postpartum thoughts of harm, mood and anxiety. The final questionnaire package will also include anonymous questions aboutphysical and sexual abuse of the newborn.

Fairbrother says this sensitive information can’t be traced back to the participant.

For more information on how to participate in this research study, go to the website motherinfantwellness.ca.

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