Background: Even though more than 20% of women meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder during the perinatal period, very little is known about the predictors of these problems. As a result, we systematically reviewed the literature on risk factors for new onset anxiety and maternal anxiety exacerbation in the perinatal period.
Methods: PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Ovid, ProQuest Portal, and Web of Science were searched for studies assessing risk factors for the development of new onset anxiety or anxiety worsening in women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Results: 11,759 citations were identified, with 11 studies meeting eligibility criteria. New onset anxiety was assessed in 7 studies, anxiety worsening in 3, and 1 assessed both. Lower educational attainment, living with extended family members, multiparity, a family history of psychiatric disorders, hyperemesis gravidarum, comorbid sleep disorders, and prenatal oxytocin exposure were risk factors for new onset perinatal anxiety, while presence of comorbid psychiatric disorders and prenatal oxytocin were risk factors for anxiety worsening.
Limitations: Studies not explicitly stating whether participants had pre-existing anxiety disorders were excluded. As a result, meta-analysis was not possible for several risk factors.
Conclusions: Risk factors for new onset anxiety and anxiety worsening during the perinatal period include psychological, social, and biological exposures. Given the lack of studies differentiating women with and without pre-existing anxiety disorders, additional research is required in order to determine whether these factors differ from the non-puerperal population, as well as from each other.
Keywords: Anxiety; Postpartum; Pregnancy; Risk factor.
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