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Open Access Research article

Development of a universal psycho-educational intervention to prevent common postpartum mental disorders in primiparous women: a multiple method approach

Heather J Rowe* and Jane RW Fisher

Author Affiliations

Centre for Women's Health Gender and Society, Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010 Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:499  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-499

Published: 18 August 2010

Abstract

Background

Prevention of postnatal mental disorders in women is an important component of comprehensive health service delivery because of the substantial potential benefits for population health. However, diverse approaches to prevention of postnatal depression have had limited success, possibly because anxiety and adjustment disorders are also problematic, mental health problems are multifactorially determined, and because relationships amongst psychosocial risk factors are complex and difficult to modify. The aim of this paper is to describe the development of a novel psycho-educational intervention to prevent postnatal mental disorders in mothers of firstborn infants.

Methods

Data from a variety of sources were synthesised: a literature review summarised epidemiological evidence about neglected modifiable risk factors; clinical research evidence identified successful psychosocial treatments for postnatal mental health problems; consultations with clinicians, health professionals, policy makers and consumers informed the proposed program and psychological and health promotion theories underpinned the proposed mechanisms of effect. The intervention was pilot-tested with small groups of mothers and fathers and their first newborn infants.

Results

What Were We Thinking! is a psycho-educational intervention, designed for universal implementation, that addresses heightened learning needs of parents of first newborns. It re-conceptualises mental health problems in mothers of infants as reflecting unmet needs for adaptations in the intimate partner relationship after the birth of a baby, and skills to promote settled infant behaviour. It addresses these two risk factors in half-day seminars, facilitated by trained maternal and child health nurses using non-psychiatric language, in groups of up to five couples and their four-week old infants in primary care. It is designed to promote confidence and reduce mental disorders by providing skills in sustainable sleep and settling strategies, and the re-negotiation of the unpaid household workload in non-confrontational ways. Materials include a Facilitators' Handbook, creatively designed worksheets for use in seminars, and a book for couples to take home for reference. A website provides an alternative means of access to the intervention.

Conclusions

What Were We Thinking! is a postnatal mental health intervention which has the potential to contribute to psychologically-informed routine primary postnatal health care and prevent common mental disorders in women.