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Thrive Guide: Personalized emotional wellbeing planning for soon-to-be mothers

A research team based out of the VCU School of Nursing debuts a new wellness resource for pregnant people.

Mother holding infant while seated in a chair The Thrive Guide planning tool launched in May 2023 as an effort to help pregnant people to create a support plan for their mental and emotional wellbeing as they prepare for this next chapter. (Cavna)

By Caitlin Hanbury

An interprofessional research team based out of the VCU School of Nursing has developed a wellness resource for new and expecting mothers. The Thrive Guide is a planning tool that encourages individuals to create a personalized support plan for their mental and emotional wellness as they prepare for and experience the perinatal period, the time from pre-conception through the first year of an infant’s life.

According to the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, one in five people who are pregnant or who have recently given birth will experience mental health concerns. Symptoms such as a sense of being overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, stressed as well as developing obsessive-compulsive behaviors can make it difficult for new mothers and families to thrive.

The Thrive Guide was created in response to the existing gaps in wellness support for the pregnant and postpartum community, encouraging expectant and new mothers to proactively consider and make a plan for their own wellness needs. The guide is a one-page outline that leads perinatal individuals through the exercise of identifying caregivers, activities and health care provider resources that they may need to support their own wellness.

“Despite the best efforts of many organizations and clinicians, there are major gaps in the resources available to pregnant and postpartum individuals struggling with feelings of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, depression, and similar. Also, quite often, one obstacle is the work required in asking for help—there are so many demands on moms that they no longer become the center of their own or others’ attention. The Thrive Guide is designed to put mom at the center, to engage her as the expert in her needs and her care,” said Patricia Kinser, Ph.D., WHNP-BC, RN, FAAN, professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing in the VCU School of Nursing, who led the project.

The idea to develop the Thrive Guide began in the spring of 2020. Through interviews with participants of the COPE Study: COVID-19 and Perinatal Experiences, Kinser in partnership with Sara Moyer, RN, a clinical research coordinator and doctoral student in the VCU School of Nursing, and Caroline Carrico, Ph.D., biostatistician and associate professor in the VCU School of Dentistry, identified the need to get a greater understanding of pregnant and parenting mothers’ experiences during the pandemic. Throughout that process, they heard a resounding plea from their interview participants for a better standard of perinatal mental health care, one that went beyond traditional risk assessment and mitigation in favor of support and prevention.

Using their experiences and collective background in women’s mental health, clinical neonatal intensive care and research in self-management strategies for enhancing mental wellness, the team resolved to create a new resource addressing this need.

"Our participants pushed us to think deeply about how we could start creating change quickly--what small steps could be done that might have a significant impact? We saw the need to do more than disseminate our findings through peer-reviewed journals typically read only within the research community. We wanted to create something for women and clinicians to use now. Hence, the idea for the Thrive Guide was born," Kinser said.

The Thrive Guide involves the perinatal individual in self-management, care planning and mindfulness, empowering them during a particularly vulnerable time when many experience heightened stress related to pregnancy, childbirth, and adjusting to parenthood. Unlike many perinatal resources, the guide positions the individual actively at the center of their plan, as the author of a list of predetermined intervention and prevention resources they can call upon when in need.

“Users of the Thrive Guide have shared that it promotes strategies they hadn’t previously thought of—like having a ‘signal’ that can be shared with your support system to make it easier to voice ‘I’m overwhelmed.’ The guide helps its users anticipate the heavy, sometimes invisible, mental and emotional load of motherhood and create a plan to get support when asking for help can feel like another task and another decision on a long list that feels impossible to manage,” Carrico said.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this new resource is its accessibility and simplicity. The Thrive Guide can be completed independently by the individual, with a supportive partner or in consultation with their health care provider.

“We intentionally designed the Thrive Guide to support self-empowerment toward emotional health and well-being for any parent along the full continuum of their reproductive journey. The goal is to shift the focus to wellness and wholeness as the standard of care, focusing well-being as the goal. Person-centered support tools designed for ‘real life’ applications that guide people through setting up supportive systems before they may be needed tells parents, ‘You matter. Your experiences matter. Your mental health matters,” Moyer said.

The Thrive Guide officially launched online in late May 2023 and is available for free to pregnant people and providers. The research team who developed it is working with partner organizations and clinicians in multiple health systems, including VCU Health, to distribute the new resource and consider how to share it with families across the commonwealth, and beyond.