Prenatal intervention benefits mothers' mental health up to eight years later

Prenatal intervention benefits mothers’ mental health up to eight years later

Inexpensive prenatal intervention benefits mothers’ mental health up to eight years later, according to a new study from UC San Francisco.

In the study, one of the first to look at results so far into the future, pregnant women who took part in a group wellness course that met weekly for eight weeks were half as likely to be depressed eight years later compared to women who received standard care. , according to the study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Previous research on the same group of women found that the intervention also reduced their short-term risk of depression and diabetes and supported healthier stress responses in their children.

Given the economic and social burden of maternal depression and its potential impact on offspring, our results suggest a significant benefit from a modest investment during pregnancy that supports well-being across two generations.”

Danielle Roubinov, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF and first author of the study

The eight-week class intervention, led by Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UCSF and her team, involved groups of eight to 10 pregnant women who met two hours a week to practice mindfulness-based stress reduction, with a particular focus on mindfulness. eat, breathe and move. They received lessons and group activities from a medical professional with a master’s degree. The women also benefited from two telephone sessions and a postpartum “reminder” group session with their infants.

Participants in the BIPOC study were prioritized

Historically, most studies of prenatal depression have focused primarily on white women — but not this one, noted Nicki Bush, PhD, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences and lead author of the study. ‘study.

“Our participants were low-income, racially and ethnically diverse women who are consistently exposed to factors that put them at risk for depression, such as racism and economic hardship,” Bush said. “Furthermore, the final years of the study were during the COVID-19 pandemic, when depression rates were higher for everyone, and the burden placed on communities of color was even greater. Even so , the treatment effects were maintained.

In the study, 162 women were assigned to either the intervention group or the standard care group. Women’s depressive symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) before wellness intervention courses, after wellness courses, and 1, 2, 3-4, 5, 6 and 8 years later.

Although both groups of women had equal symptoms of depression before the course, 12% of women who were part of the wellness course reported moderate or severe depressive symptoms after eight years, compared to 25% of women. who received standard care. which was a consistent trend over the years.

“The practice of mindfulness is known to help relieve stress in many situations and can significantly affect coping and health, and here it appears to be particularly powerful during pregnancy, with lasting effects. “, Bush said. “Our feeling is that the community connections and social support involved in the group (wellness class) was also therapeutic.”

Stress management, nutrition and exercise during pregnancy

Researchers are currently collecting additional data to better understand how the intervention had such a long-term effect. Potential mechanisms include long-term changes in stress adaptation and responsiveness, nutrition, and exercise.

Up to 27% of pregnant women suffer from prenatal depression, which is predictive of postnatal depression. Maternal depression is also associated with social, emotional, and cognitive deficits in offspring.

“This dramatic demonstration of both short-term reduction in depressive symptoms and long-term prevention of more severe maternal depression, even during the pandemic, is remarkable even for us researchers,” Epel said. “It is likely that the effects of increased stress resistance in these women have pervasive effects on their own health and on their children. We would never have known the durability of these changes if Dr. Bush and his team did not hadn’t followed for eight years. . We already know that pregnancy is a critical time and the lesson here is that we need to invest heavily in wellness interventions during pregnancy.”

The researchers hope that the low cost and relatively short time commitment of the intervention class will facilitate its expansion to larger groups of pregnant women -; especially women of color and those with low incomes.

“Having interventions that meet the needs of low-income, Black, Indigenous and people of color, who are particularly likely to experience the stress of social inequities, is critical,” Rubinov said. “We’re excited to see how these results can be scaled up to reach more women and a more diverse group of women.”


University of California – San Francisco

Journal reference:

Stice, E & Davila, J., et al. (2022) Introduction to the special issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: “Best practices” in prevention and treatment for racial and ethnic minor people. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

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