Background: Anxiety disorders are a relatively common occurring mental health issue during pregnancy and the perinatal period. There is evidence that untreated perinatal anxiety is a risk factor for adverse outcomes for mother and infant. Despite their potential acceptability to users, psychological interventions research for this population is still in its infancy. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to comprehensively evaluate the evidence of the effectiveness of psychological interventions for reducing perinatal anxiety.
Method: This review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Databases searched included EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsychINFO, MIDIRS, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library. Search terms included: Psychological Therapy, Perinatal Period, Antenatal, Postnatal, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Phobia.
Results: The search strategy identified 2025 studies. A total of 21 studies published between 2004 and 2021 fulfilled inclusion criteria. Of those, 17 were included in the meta-analysis. Overall results indicated that psychological interventions were more effective than control conditions in reducing symptoms of perinatal anxiety with a medium post treatment effect size. Significant effect sizes were also identified for online, face-to-face, group and guided self-help treatment modalities.
Limitations: A small sample of studies are represented and limited to articles published in English. The review was unable to draw specific conclusions about what works (i.e. therapeutic modality/delivery) for whom (i.e. specific diagnoses) due to purposefully broad inclusion criteria. The longer-term effects of psychological interventions for perinatal anxiety and infant outcomes could not be established.
Conclusions: This review demonstrates that psychological interventions are effective in reducing symptoms of both anxiety and comorbid anxiety and depression in the antenatal and postnatal periods. The results also demonstrate the efficacy of delivering such interventions in multiple settings, including online, and in group format. Further research is required to optimise treatment delivery to individual needs.