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Postpartum Depression May be Prevented When Mindfulness is Part of Childbirth Education
May 17, 2017

Image by Ben Kayam via iStockPhoto

LarissaDuncan

A new study from researchers at UW–Madison and University of California-San Francisco shows mindfulness training that addresses fear and pain during childbirth improves childbirth experiences and lessens depression symptoms both during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

This rigorous new study comparing mainstream childbirth education with childbirth education including mindfulness skills points to the benefits of this novel mind-body approach for reducing fear of childbirth among first time mothers.

“Fear of the unknown affects us all, and perhaps none more so than pregnant women,” states Larissa Duncan, the Elizabeth C. Davies Chair in Child & Family Well-Being and Associate Professor of Human Development & Family Studies at the School of Human Ecology and the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Mindfulness skills seem to support normal birth processes and benefit women’s mental health.  Many women and their healthcare providers are concerned about the use of medications during pregnancy, labor, and while breastfeeding.  A mindfulness approach offers the possibility of decreasing the need for these medications and can reach women who may not know they are at risk for perinatal depression or can’t access mental health services.”

“With mindfulness skills, women in our study reported feeling more able to cope with childbirth and they experienced improved well-being critical for healthy mother-infant adjustment in the first year of life."

Larissa Duncan

Childbirth education classes are a primary resource for pregnant women and their partners to learn information, strategies, and remedies for coping with labor pain.  And yet there’s a gap in the data about childbirth education.

“We have little consistent evidence that the childbirth preparation courses currently attended by over 2 million pregnant women per year in the U.S. are as beneficial as they might be.  Sometimes women report that the information in childbirth education actually increases their fear of childbirth,” reports Duncan.  “With mindfulness skills, women in our study reported feeling more able to cope with childbirth and they experienced improved well-being critical for healthy mother-infant adjustment in the first year of life.  In contrast, we saw that women who attended traditional childbirth education experienced a worsening of depression symptoms.”

Mindfulness training has long been used as a method for promoting coping with chronic pain and more recently shown to be beneficial for acute pain, but this is the one of the first randomized controlled trials of its application in childbirth education. This study shows mindfulness provides a promising strategy for addressing labor pain and fear of birth.

 “The encouraging results of this small study point to the possibility that mindfulness skills can transform the way expectant parents prepare for this profound life change,” says Nancy Bardacke, the certified nurse-midwife and senior mindfulness teacher who developed the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting education course. “In addition to supporting moms and babies, we may also be benefiting fathers, who are themselves experiencing the birth of their child and becoming parents.  While more research is clearly needed, the larger public health implications of this work are motivating.”

– Linda Zwicker