The aim was to investigate women's accounts of the sources and explanations of perinatal anxiety to inform clinical and public health responses. Discussions with groups of women during admission to an early parenting service were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using an interpretative phenomenological approach. Twenty women participated (40% had above 'normal' anxiety symptoms; 45% were experiencing moderate or severe stress). The groups reported sources of worry about their babies, themselves and their relationships. These anxiety triggers were interpreted in the context of contemporary social and health discourses about pregnancy, the postpartum period and infant care. Five themes were identified: image management; single-message health promotion campaigns; evidence-based decision making, 'maternal instinct', and risk. Public health campaigns, health professionals and others could ameliorate perinatal anxiety by providing realistic, understandable, numerical information to assist decision making, disrupt inaccurate gender-based stereotypes about mothering behaviours and offer abundant praise for the work of mothering.
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