Mindfulness could be a resource for future mothers who are developing their first pregnancy. The potential benefits are suggested by researchers from two US universities, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of California, who compared a traditional pregnancy course with one that incorporated this type of meditation. Through mindfulness – as seen in the study – the women observed showed a greater ability to cope autonomously with childbirth and also reported fewer depressive symptoms at the end of pregnancy and in the first period after childbirth. We talk about this topic with Dr. Paolo Amami, neuropsychologist and psychotherapist at Humanitas.
Meditation and awareness
Mindfulness is a form of meditation developed in the United States in the 1970s and also used for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorder. The subject learns to focus on “here and now” through these techniques, to change his/her way of thinking, and do it in a more conscious and non-judgmental way.
The authors of the study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth evaluated the effectiveness of mindfulness for better management of pain during labor and childbirth and for the containment of depressive symptoms in the period preceding and following delivery. This time window, in fact, can see the onset of a form of depression called post-partum or perinatal depression. Her symptoms, from anxiety to mood disorders to the feeling of inability to cope with motherhood, may arise particularly between the sixth and twelfth week after childbirth.
The research team conducted a randomized study of thirty women, and their partners, during the last phase of the third trimester of pregnancy. For all participants it was the first pregnancy. Participants were offered either a traditional childbirth preparation course or a weekend workshop with a focus on mind and body, developed by a mindfulness teacher. The Intensive Course was based on the teaching of meditation, conscious walking and strategies to deal with pain and fear of childbirth. Those who attended had also received audio material to practice mindfulness independently.
Researchers took into account the medical records of each woman and the participants’ self-assessments before and after childbirth to retrospectively assess the intensity of the pain experienced. In the “mindfulness group” this was inferior to other women: “The participants in the workshop – adds Dr. Amami – had learned to deal with labor and childbirth with greater awareness, and to cope with the pain experienced at that time. Researchers also measured these results by detecting the use of painkillers. These women had made less use of these drugs.
In addition, depressive symptoms in the perinatal period in the “mindfulness group” were reduced. The benefit had lasted about six weeks after the birth; on the contrary, in the first group, it had worsened.
However, the research has important limitations: “Out of the 159 subjects initially selected, only thirty have completed the two perinatal courses. This may suggest that few people had the characteristics to participate in a course where mindfulness was also taught, so the results of the study are currently not very generalized.
In any case – continues the expert – the study suggests how mindfulness training, used to cope with chronic and acute pain, could represent a useful strategy to prepare women for childbirth and help them to have less fear and anxiety related to childbirth and physical pain,” says Dr. Amami. Pain is not only related to the body. Therefore, a practice such as mindfulness that works on the body and mind, from relaxation to self-awareness to concentration on the here and now, plausibly constitutes a tool that pregnant women could have at their disposal. The study’s conclusions are an initial empirical evidence of the benefits of mindfulness and are consistent with the structural characteristics of this practice,” recalls Dr. Amami.