What is peer support and how can it help pregnant women?

#Mother's mental health during and until one year after pregnancy is at a highly vulnerable state. It is estimated that 9–13% of women experience depression at some time during pregnancy and approximately 13–15% experience anxiety during that time. Whereas about 13–21% of mothers experience depression and 13% of them experience anxiety at some time in the year after birth.

Moreover, in cases when mothers are isolated or don't have the social support they are more likely to experience #mental health problems. For example, if mothers are single parents or have a poor relationship with their partner, if they have low self-esteem, if they are poor, or they are under 18, they have a high possibility of developing depressing or anxiety.

Many #pregnant women and new #mothers who do not have a diagnosed mental illness, experience subthreshold symptoms of depression and anxiety as they adapt to their maternal role, which can itself adversely affect the developing baby. The states can adversely affect the baby’s physical, psychological, mental, emotional and behavioural development, particularly in socio-economically disadvantaged families.

Therefore interventions such as peer support are used to assist mothers with or at risk of perinatal mental health problems. Peer support offers a fifth dimension of empathetic support and is often described as comprising emotional, appraisal, informational and sometimes instrumental or practical support.


Usually, postnatal women participate in support groups where they can feel ‘safe’ to talk about their feelings of distress. Whereas another method to support women at risk of depression or anxiety is telephone support. This kind of support is made from a briefly trained volunteer who has herself recovered from the condition. One-to-one visits from trained volunteers, who may or may not have experience of mental health problems themselves, is another method to assist these women.

A mother who takes peer support feels relieved at having someone non-judgemental to talk with honestly about their problems, fears, concerns and other feelings. Being heard by a peer support volunteer or peer counsellor has a comparable function to the safe arena for connecting with others, sharing experiences, and unsilencing voices.

Meetings with peer supporters over time changed mothers’ feelings about themselves. Consistent positive feedback (appraisal) and the peer supporters’ sharing of their own parenting experiences helped to normalize their concerns and build their self-esteem and self-confidence in their parenting role.

Therefore, peer support and supporting improvements in mothers’ feelings of self-esteem, self-efficacy and parenting competence can contribute to reducing low mood and anxiety by overcoming feelings of isolation, disempowerment and stress.

Source: Mothers’ accounts of the impact on emotional wellbeing of organised peer support in pregnancy and early parenthood: a qualitative study.
McLeish and Redshaw 2017
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