Improve Mental Health Postpartum with Perinatal Mindfulness Training
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“the ideal treatment plan for perinatal depression and anxiety often includes mindfulness techniques. Exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation, for example, have been shown to reduce blood pressure and promote recovery from many illnesses.” – Edith Gettes
The birth of a child is most often a joyous occasion. But often the joy turns to misery. Immediately after birth it is common for the mother to experience mood swings including what has been termed “baby blues,” a sadness that may last for as much as a couple of weeks. But some women experience a more intense and long-lasting negative mood called postpartum depression. This occurs usually 4-6 weeks after birth in about 15% of births; about 600,000 women in the U.S. every year. For 50% of the women the depression lasts for about a year while about 30% are still depressed 3 years later.
Mindfulness training has been shown to improve anxiety and depression in general and to relieve maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancy. But it is not known if the effectiveness of mindfulness training during the perinatal period carries over to the postpartum period. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was specifically developed to treat depression and consists of mindfulness training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). During therapy the patient is trained to investigate and alter aberrant thought patterns underlying depression. So, it would make sense to study the effectiveness of MBCT administered during the perinatal period on postpartum mental health issues.
In today’s Research News article “Postpartum Outcomes and Formal Mindfulness Practice in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Perinatal Women.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6070304/), Luberto and colleagues recruited pregnant women (average of 15.5 weeks pregnant) and provide them with an 8-week program of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). They were measured before and after training and 3 months postpartum for anxiety, depression, worry, mindfulness, self-compassion, meditation frequency, and home practice.
They found that after treatment there were significant increases in mindfulness and self-compassion and significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and worry. These improvements were maintained at 3-months postpartum except for depression that had a further significant decline. After the intervention 91% of the women continued to practice meditation and 65% continued practicing yoga. During the postpartum period 55% of the women continued to practice meditation and 25% continued practicing yoga. There were no significant differences in the outcomes for women who continued to practice versus those that didn’t.
These results are important in that they demonstrate that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) produces important benefits for the mental health of pregnant women that endure into the postpartum period. This is important as “baby blues” and postpartum depression are frequent and difficult consequences of childbirth. The findings suggest that MBCT training during pregnancy may help to prevent “baby blues” and postpartum depression. Hence, MBCT the produces lasting improvements in the psychological state of women during both the perinatal and postpartum periods.
So, improve mental health postpartum with perinatal mindfulness training.
“By paying attention, by being mindful, I was able to accept things that spun me out previously. I still had low points, but I was better equipped to manage and accept them as feelings and moments, and move on. . . . What I thought was caused by hormone fluctuations and “baby blues” was actually much more severe.” – Kristi Pahr
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Luberto, C. M., Park, E. R., & Goodman, J. H. (2018). Postpartum Outcomes and Formal Mindfulness Practice in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Perinatal Women. Mindfulness, 9(3), 850–859. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0825-8
Anxiety is common during pregnancy and associated with poorer outcomes for mother and child. Our single-arm pilot study of an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) intervention for pregnant women with elevated anxiety showed significant pre- to post-intervention improvements in anxiety, depression, worry, mindfulness, and self-compassion. It remains unclear whether these improvements are maintained post-partum and whether amount of formal mindfulness practice is correlated with outcomes. The current study examined whether 1) improvements in psychosocial outcomes were maintained three months postpartum; 2) women were adherent to formal practice recommendations; and 3) amount of mindfulness practice was correlated with outcomes. Twenty-three pregnant women (Mage=33.5, SD=4.40; 75% White; 71% with Generalized Anxiety Disorder) completed home practice logs throughout the intervention, and self-report measures before and after the intervention and three months postpartum. Results indicated that previously reported post-intervention improvements in anxiety, worry, mindfulness, and self-compassion were maintained postpartum (p’s<.05), and reductions in depression further improved (p<.001). Participants were generally adherent to mindfulness practice recommendations during the intervention (54%-80% weekly adherence; M=17.31 total practice hours [SD=7.45]), and many continued practicing one-week post-intervention (91%) and postpartum (55%). Mindfulness practice during the intervention was not significantly correlated with any outcome at post-intervention or postpartum. Mindfulness practice postpartum was only marginally related to improved worry postpartum (p=.05). MBCT may be associated with maintained improvements in psychosocial outcomes for women during pregnancy and postpartum, but the role of mindfulness practice is unclear. Research using larger samples and randomized controlled designs is needed.