NIH: Intervention mitigates postpartum depression and anxiety risks


A recent study from the National Institutes of Health reveals an intervention led by non-specialist providers during pregnancy significantly lowers postpartum depression and anxiety risks, especially crucial for women in resource-poor settings where mental health care access is limited.

NIH: Intervention mitigates postpartum depression and anxiety risks | Image Credit: © Chanintorn.v - © Chanintorn.v -

NIH: Intervention mitigates postpartum depression and anxiety risks | Image Credit: © Chanintorn.v - © Chanintorn.v -

Postpartum depression and anxiety risks are significantly reduced by an intervention given by non-specialist providers during pregnancy, according to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


  1. Non-specialist-led interventions during pregnancy can significantly reduce postpartum depression and anxiety risks, offering a promising solution for women in resource-poor settings with limited access to mental health care.
  2. Prenatal anxiety serves as a predictor for postpartum mental health issues and adverse outcomes in infants, highlighting the importance of addressing anxiety during pregnancy.
  3. The Happy Mother-Healthy Baby intervention, based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), involved one-on-one counseling sessions with trained non-specialists, resulting in a notable decrease in postpartum anxiety and depression rates.
  4. Pregnant women in Pakistan participated in the randomized controlled trial, with the intervention group reporting an 81% reduction in postpartum anxiety or depression vs the control group.
  5. This study underscores the potential for non-specialist providers to bridge the gap in mental health care delivery, particularly in low-resource settings.

Women in resource-poor settings who may struggle to access mental health care are at an increased risk of experiencing anxiety during pregnancy. Prenatal anxiety has been proven as an indicator of postpartum anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, as well as adverse growth and developmental outcomes among infants.

Investigators from the NIH conducted a study to evaluate the efficacy of an intervention aiming to reducing anxiety during pregnancy in decreasing postpartum mental health risks. Pregnant women in Pakistan were consulted for information about anxiety sources, coping strategies, and resources.

Feedback was utilized to create an anxiety-focused intervention based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapy designed to modify certain thoughts and behaviors. The intervention was titled Happy Mother-Healthy Baby and evaluated in a randomized controlled trial.

Participants included pregnant women with at least mild level anxiety but no depression presenting in the Punjab Province of Pakistan between April 2019 ad January 2022. Of participants, 380 received the intervention while 375 received routine medical care.

The intervention included 6 or more one-on-one counseling sessions provided during early to mid-pregnancy, as well as a final session during the third trimester. During sessions, patients learned how to detect anxious thoughts and behaviors and replace them with helpful thoughts and behaviors.

Counseling was provided by trained non-specialists with a bachelor’s degree equivalent in psychology but no clinical experience. Anxiety and depression were evaluated 6 weeks postpartum. At this time, moderate-to-severe anxiety was reported in 9% of the CBT group vs 27% of the control group. A major depressive episode was reported in 12% and 41%, respectively.

An overall 81% reduction of postpartum anxiety or depression was observed among the CBT group vs the control group at 6 weeks postpartum. Investigators concluded the intervention can be used to reduce postpartum mental health condition risk.

“In low resource settings, it can be challenging for women to access mental health care due to a global shortage of trained mental health specialists,” said Joshua A. Gordon, MD, PhD, director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. “This study shows that non-specialists could help to fill this gap, providing care to more women during this critical period.”


Talk therapy cuts risk of postpartum depression. March 12, 2024. Accessed March 15, 2024.

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