What is a Perinatal Social Worker


Employed in a variety of settings, perinatal social workers help individuals, families, and communities respond to psychosocial issues that emerge during the period from pre-pregnancy through an infant’s first year of life.

Pregnancies can be very exciting and times of pure joy; however, they can also be scary and tumultuous. Medical conditions, uncertainty and the family’s socio-cultural situation may all challenge the ability to enjoy the pregnancy and give birth to a child who can thrive. Perinatal social workers work to support women and families as they navigate medical challenges, process complex information about pregnancies and neonates (birth to age 1), and access community supports. Perinatal social workers help with planning and nurture hope as families move toward their future.

The perinatal period (pre-conception through a baby’s first year of life) can be complicated by such factors as medically high risk pregnancies, fetal diagnosis, premature/sick newborns, drug use by the pregnant woman and/or her family, familial conflict, legal concerns, parents who have cognitive, behavioral and/or mental health needs, ambivalence about the pregnancy, and poverty. Even healthy pregnancies with optimal psychosocial conditions can be affected by anxiety and uncertainty as individuals make the transition to parenthood.

Perinatal social workers intervene to:

  1. Work with women and families to assess their strengths and challenges as they approach child-bearing;
  2. Ameliorate the effects of psychosocial and medical challenges by working directly with the woman and family, while also assisting them to access long term supportive services where needed;
  3. Assist in creating healthy and nurturing parent-child relationships;
  4. Advocate for the woman and her family within the health care setting and in the community.

When a perinatal loss occurs (infertility, miscarriage, fetal diagnosis, still birth or neonatal death), the perinatal social worker helps families to understand, express, and cope with feelings of grief and assists as they learn to live with their “new normal.”

Perinatal social workers work in hospitals, but they also work in the community settings. They can work in pediatric hospices, adoption agencies (with birth mothers and/or adoptive parents), early intervention programs, prenatal drug cessation programs, prenatal diagnosis clinics, foster care, parenting education and many other settings. Some perinatal social workers provide out-patient mental health services as families adjust to medical challenges, make decisions, manage the transition to parenthood, mourn idealized pregnancies, manage post-partum depression and cope with many types of perinatal loss. In short, perinatal social workers work in many settings; they provide families with support, counseling, case management, advocacy, guidance & resources.

The goal of perinatal social work is to ascertain that every baby and every family is supported with competent compassionate care.