Improve Parent and Infant Mental Health with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindful parenting is not about being the perfect parent. It’s about being more aware, present in the moment and open-hearted. That makes a huge difference to our children and how we respond to them.” – Myla Kabat-Zinn
Raising children, parenting, is very rewarding. But, it can also be challenging. Children test parents frequently. They test the boundaries of their freedom and the depth of parental love. They demand attention and seem to especially when parental attention is needed elsewhere. They don’t always conform to parental dictates or aspirations for their behavior. They are often affected more by peers, for good or evil, than by parents. It is the parents challenge to control themselves, not overreact, and act appropriately in the face of strong emotions.
The initial challenges of parenting begin immediately after birth. Parenting an infant requires that the parent be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive to their baby. These skills are exactly those that are developed in mindfulness training. It improves the psychological and physiological responses to stress. It improves emotion regulation. And it improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction. Mindful parenting involves having emotional awareness not only of themselves but also having emotional awareness of and compassion for the baby. It also involves having the skills to pay full attention to the baby in the present moment, to accept parenting non-judgmentally and be emotionally non-reactive to the baby.
Hence, it makes sense to learn mindful parenting early in the life of the infant. In today’s Research News article “Mindful with Your Baby: Feasibility, Acceptability, and Effects of a Mindful Parenting Group Training for Mothers and Their Babies in a Mental Health Context.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605590/, Potharst and colleagues examine the effectiveness of mindful parenting training with the infant and mother on psychological states of mother and infant.
They recruited mothers of newborns who evidenced high stress levels, mental health problems, infant regulation problems, or mother-infant interaction problems. They provided an 8-week “Mindful with Your Baby” program that was based upon Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It occurred in once weekly 2-hour session with both mother and infant present and included home meditation practice and a follow-up session 8 weeks after the conclusion of training. The mothers were measured before and after training and 8 weeks and 1 year later for mindfulness, mindful parenting skills, self-compassion, well-being, psychopathology, parenting stress and confidence, warmth and negativity toward the baby, and infant temperament.
The program was acceptable with high attendance rates and only 7% of the participants dropped out. Importantly, they found that compared to baseline the “Mindful with Your Baby” program produced significant increases in mindfulness, mindful parenting skills, and self-compassion that were maintained a year later. There were also improvements in well-being, psychopathology, parenting stress and confidence, warmth and negativity toward the baby, and infant temperament that were weak after training but grew stronger over the one-year period.
These are exciting findings but must be tempered with the understanding that there was no control comparison condition and this opens the way for a myriad of alternative, confounding, explanations for the results. A Randomized Controlled Clinical (RCT) is need to confirm the conclusion that the mindfulness training was responsible for the effects. In addition, these mothers were mentally troubled to begin with and may be particularly benefited by mindfulness training. The program need to be tested also with otherwise normal new mothers. Nevertheless, the results suggest that a program of mindfulness training for mothers and their infants may be very effective in improving parenting and improving the psychological conditions of bot the mother and the infant.
So, improve parent and infant mental health with mindfulness.
“Being mindful while holding a baby can be an incredibly gratifying, renewing and sometimes challenging mindfulness practice. Babies cycle through various states of being throughout their days and nights. How you are in relationship to a baby in these various states is truly a practice in everyday life. It can be helpful to remember that whatever state of being that your baby is in at any particular moment, it is not a permanent condition. Nothing is.” — Nancy Bardacke
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Potharst, E. S., Aktar, E., Rexwinkel, M., Rigterink, M., & Bögels, S. M. (2017). Mindful with Your Baby: Feasibility, Acceptability, and Effects of a Mindful Parenting Group Training for Mothers and Their Babies in a Mental Health Context. Mindfulness, 8(5), 1236–1250. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0699-9
Many mothers experience difficulties after the birth of a baby. Mindful parenting may have benefits for mothers and babies, because it can help mothers regulate stress, and be more attentive towards themselves and their babies, which may have positive effects on their responsivity. This study examined the effectiveness of Mindful with your baby, an 8-week mindful parenting group training for mothers with their babies. The presence of the babies provides on-the-spot practicing opportunities and facilitates generalization of what is learned. Forty-four mothers with their babies (0–18 months), who were referred to a mental health clinic because of elevated stress or mental health problems of the mother, infant (regulation) problems, or mother-infant interaction problems, participated in 10 groups, each comprising of three to six mother-baby dyads. Questionnaires were administered at pretest, posttest, 8-week follow-up, and 1-year follow-up. Dropout rate was 7%. At posttest, 8-week follow-up, and 1-year follow-up, a significant improvement was seen in mindfulness, self-compassion, mindful parenting, (medium to large effects), as well as in well-being, psychopathology, parental confidence, responsivity, and hostility (small to large effects). Parental stress and parental affection only improved at the first and second follow-ups, respectively (small to medium effects), and maternal attention and rejection did not change. The infants improved in their positive affectivity (medium effect) but not in other aspects of their temperament. Mindful with your baby is a promising intervention for mothers with babies who are referred to mental health care because of elevated stress or mental health problems, infant (regulation) problems, or mother-infant interaction problems.