Psychological Medicine

Research Article

Possible determinants, correlates and consequences of high levels of anxiety in primiparous mothers

Bryanne Barnetta1 c1 and Gordon Parkera1

a1 School of Psychiatry, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia


Groups of highly anxious, moderately anxious and minimally anxious primiparous mothers (N= 147) were obtained on the basis of Spielberger trait anxiety scores in the postpartum period, and subjects were compared. Allocation to those groups appeared to be more likely to reflect constitutional levels of anxiety, rather than recent or current social stressors. Highly anxious mothers were distinguished on a number of presumed correlates of anxiety measured by clinical questions (e.g. terminating of anxious situations), hospital notes (e.g. mood problems noted by nursing staff) and blind rater assessments (e.g. unassertiveness). While highly anxious mothers were more likely to report more recent life events, less social support, and negative interpretations of the pregnancy, the hospital experience and the hospital staff, such variables were less discriminating when neuroticism levels were effectively controlled. This suggests an intrinsic perceptual bias, rather than that the factors were determinants. Highly anxious mothers had more delivery complications, while their babies were more likely to be dysmature and slow to suckle, features we interpret as consequences of the anxiety levels. In the postpartum period these mothers were more depressed, had more concerns about their baby, themselves and their marriage, and were less confident about coping and their parenting capacities. Such variables may be correlates or consequences of anxiety.


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr B. Barnett, Psychiatric Unit, The Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, 2031, Sydney, Australia.