Mothers' accounts of the impact on emotional wellbeing of organised peer support in pregnancy and early parenthood: a qualitative study.
McLeish J., Redshaw M.
BACKGROUND: The transition to parenthood is a potentially vulnerable time for mothers' mental health and approximately 9-21% of women experience depression and/or anxiety at this time. Many more experience sub-clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as stress, low self-esteem and a loss of confidence. Women's emotional wellbeing is more at risk if they have little social support, a low income, are single parents or have a poor relationship with their partner. Peer support can comprise emotional, affirmational, informational and practical support; evidence of its impact on emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and afterwards is mixed. METHODS: This was a descriptive qualitative study, informed by phenomenological social psychology, exploring women's experiences of the impact of organised peer support on their emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and in early parenthood. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were undertaken with women who had received peer support provided by ten projects in different parts of England, including both projects offering 'mental health' peer support and others offering more broadly-based peer support. The majority of participants were disadvantaged Black and ethnic minority women, including recent migrants. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcripts were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. RESULTS: 47 mothers were interviewed. Two key themes emerged: (1) 'mothers' self-identified emotional needs', containing the subthemes 'emotional distress', 'stressful circumstances', 'lack of social support', and 'unwilling to be open with professionals'; and (2) 'how peer support affects mothers', containing the subthemes 'social connection', 'being heard', 'building confidence', 'empowerment', 'feeling valued', 'reducing stress through practical support' and 'the significance of "mental health" peer experiences'. Women described how peer support contributed to reducing their low mood and anxiety by overcoming feelings of isolation, disempowerment and stress, and increasing feelings of self-esteem, self-efficacy and parenting competence. CONCLUSION: One-to-one peer support during pregnancy and after birth can have a number of interrelated positive impacts on the emotional wellbeing of mothers. Peer support is a promising and valued intervention, and may have particular salience for ethnic minority women, those who are recent migrants and women experiencing multiple disadvantages.