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Intervention Reduces Likelihood of Postpartum Anxiety & Depression by More than 70%, Study Shows

Prenatal Mental Health Support Reduces Likelihood of Postpartum Anxiety and Depression

Status: Published

Date: Monday, February 26, 2024

Washington, D.C. – A groundbreaking study conducted in Pakistan by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has demonstrated the effectiveness of prenatal mental health support in reducing the risk of developing moderate-to-severe anxiety, depression, or both, during the postpartum period. The findings, published in the prestigious Nature Medicine journal, provide hope for women living in low-resource settings where access to mental health care is limited.


Anxiety and depression during pregnancy can have detrimental effects on both the mother and her child. Recognizing the global shortage of mental health specialists, the NIH conducted a large clinical trial in the Punjab Province of Pakistan to determine if non-specialized providers could offer effective interventions for pregnant women with anxiety. Led by Researcher Pamela J. Surkan, Ph.D., Sc.D., the study focused on the implementation of a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based intervention called Happy Mother-Healthy Baby.

The Happy Mother-Healthy Baby Intervention

The Happy Mother-Healthy Baby intervention, designed in collaboration with pregnant women in a hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, aimed to address anxieties commonly experienced during pregnancy. Over the course of six intervention sessions, women were taught to identify anxious thoughts and behaviors and offered tools to replace them with constructive thoughts and behaviors. The sessions were conducted throughout pregnancy to maximize the potential impact on mental well-being.

The Results

In this pioneering study, 755 pregnant women with symptoms of at least mild anxiety were randomly assigned to receive routine pregnancy care or the CBT-based intervention. Six weeks after giving birth, the women were assessed for anxiety and depression by the researchers. The findings were impressive:

  • Only 9% of women in the intervention group developed moderate-to-severe anxiety, compared to 27% in the routine care group.
  • Furthermore, the development of postpartum depression was notably lower, with 12% of women in the intervention group affected compared to 41% in the routine care group.

Overcoming Challenges in Low-Resource Settings

The study, conducted in the Global South, where 30% of pregnant women report experiencing anxiety, sheds light on the potential of interventions such as Happy Mother-Healthy Baby to prevent postpartum mental health issues in settings where specialist clinical care is scarce. This groundbreaking research opens doors to effective mental health support for women worldwide, regardless of access to specialized care.

Looking Ahead

With the proof of concept established, researchers emphasize the vital next steps of implementation research and delivering effective treatments to those in need. Going beyond academia, bridging the gap between science and practice is crucial in ensuring that all pregnant women benefit from accessible mental health support.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the leading medical research agency in the United States. Comprising 27 Institutes and Centers, the NIH is dedicated to investigating rare and common diseases, discovering treatments, and improving health outcomes. To learn more about NIH and its initiatives, visit their official website.


Surkan, P. J., Malik, A., Perin, J., Atif, N., Rowther, A., Zaidi, A., & Rahman, A. (2024). Anxiety-focused cognitive behavioral therapy delivered by non-specialists to prevent postnatal depression: A randomized, phase 3 trial. Nature Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-024-02809-x

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