Pregnancy, childbirth and the first weeks of parenthood are times of change, challenge and, for some, anxiety. This is especially so for those prone to worry or prone to low mood. It can also be an anxious time for those who have previously experienced a stressful childbirth… or even a stillbirth or miscarriage; while those suffering from “health anxiety”, may find the whole journey extremely challenging.
Further, it is common for those who have previously experienced difficult births to demonstrate symptoms of PTSD. While after the birth, the pressures on a new parent may cause “post-natal depression” or anxieties about the health of the infant.
It’s quite a list of potential problems. In response I have been thinking about how Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can help prepare and support women (and their partners) through pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood.
The good news is that there is solid research to show that for pregnant women MBCT can:
- significantly reduce anxiety
- significantly reduce depression
- increase self-compassion – to avoid negativity and remain positive about their capability as a mother
- and, reduce postnatal depression and anxiety.
Here is a 2014 paper from Boston, published in “Women’s Mental Health”, that monitored the impact of an MBCT programme on expectant mothers who were assessed as “clinically anxious” by week 27 of their pregnancy or earlier. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107206/
The research shows that MBCT was very effective:
“Completers showed statistically and clinically significant improvements in anxiety, worry, and depression, and significant increases in self-compassion and mindfulness. Of the 17 participants who met GAD criteria at baseline, only one continued to meet criteria post-intervention. Participants regarded their experience in the intervention to be overwhelmingly positive.
I would add that It is important to know that, in other trials, MBCT is shown to reduce worry – even for those who are not anxious – i.e. it is not a treatment that just helps those who are anxious – it reduces the level of worry in all participants.
Here is a further 2016 paper from University of Colorado that describes a randomised controlled trial to demonstrate how MBCT can significantly reduce both the possibility and impact of postnatal depression… even within mothers who had suffered similar problems in the past. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718345/
“At-risk women randomly assigned to MBCT reported significantly improved depressive outcomes compared to participants receiving treatment as usual, including significantly lower rates of depressive relapse/recurrence and lower depressive symptom severity during the course of the study.”
I reflect that while there is a lot of research to show the positive impact of MBCT for expectant mothers who previously experienced stillbirths there was no research to show how it could help mothers who had previously experienced difficult or traumatic births – this may be down to the difficulty of identifying or categorising such subjects, but I wondered if there might still be a blindspot so that hospitals are not realistic about the damage that such experiences can cause. Most of us have friends or relatives who have been traumatised by a birthing experience.
At Carina Sciences we believe that these trials, together with other encouraging studies, suggest that MBCT can address PTSD symptoms, anxiety and depression associated with pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period. We are looking at how we can provide specific material for pregnant women and their partners. Meanwhile, if someone you know would benefit from trying our Rezl app then please get in touch with us.