The qualitative exploration of women’s experiences of anxiety during pregnancy

UoM administered thesis: Doctor of Clinical Psychology

  • Authors:
  • Brendan Hore


The qualitative exploration of women’s experiences of anxiety during pregnancy Pregnancy is a time of transformation and adjustment for women, personally and socially. This can, for some, be a time of vulnerability to experiencing mental health difficulties. Anxiety is one of the most prevalent psychological difficulties during the antenatal period, however, little qualitative research has been completed to explore women’s lived experiences of generalised anxiety during pregnancy and the factors which are influential. Such information is clinically important to help understand experiences of anxiety specific to pregnancy in order to tailor interventions and inform future qualitative research. A metasynthesis was completed to explore women’s experiences and descriptions of generalised anxiety during pregnancy. Six databases were systematically searched using key words to identify qualitative literature which explored antenatal anxiety, worry or ‘distress’ (anxiety and depression). Nine papers which met inclusion criteria were synthesised using a meta-ethnographic approach. A line of argument, ‘Pregnancy is a time of emotional, social and physical uncertainty, which is impacted by loss of sense of control and feeling judged, resulting in anxiety’ was identified which linked all themes across the included papers. In addition, four themes were identified: Losing and regaining control, Feeling judged, Coping with anxiety, and The role of healthcare professionals and care system. Recommendations were made to professionals working in antenatal settings and/or who support women during pregnancy. The findings and limitations were discussed with reference to the existing literature. The empirical paper explored women’s experiences of generalise anxiety whilst pregnant, using semi-structured interviews which were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Women who identified with experiencing anxiety at any stage of their pregnant were recruited through a maternity hospital or online forums. Four superordinate themes emerged from the data; 1) Adjustment to pregnancy and motherhood and the experiences of anxiety, 2) Unfamiliarity, uncertainty and uncontrollability of pregnancy influences anxiety, 3) Personal and social expectations and pressures of pregnancy and motherhood and 4) Relying on healthcare systems – the good and bad.. Experiences of anxiety were influenced by first pregnancies and first trimesters being uncertain. Social expectations and judgements of motherhood and pregnancy increased anxieties. Antenatal professionals can relieve anxiety by validating and normalising women’s emotional experiences, as well as correcting unrealistic social expectations. Findings indicate that more support earlier in pregnancy might be important for women as well as more information available regarding emotional experiences during pregnancy. The final paper is a critique of the first and second paper. This paper discusses the rational and processes in developing and implementing both papers. Challenges during the research are highlighted. Strengths and limitations of both papers are discussed, as well as the researchers of personal reflections and learning points.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2018