How mindfulness and compassion during pregnancy and postpartum relates to wellbeing, mental health and infant development.

Chronic stress during pregnancy, such as poverty, racism, oppression, and exposure to neighborhood violence has been associated with poorer physical, mental health and birth outcomes. This toxic stress not only affects the pregnant person, but also the whole family system, including the developing fetus. Little is known about how different levels of mindfulness and compassion are linked to these outcomes during pregnancy and early childhood. My work incorporates a true biopsychosocial approach to research, including measures of the hypothalamic-pituitury-adrenal (HPA) axis (cortisol), the central nervous system (heart rate variability, respiratory sinus arrhythmia), brain development (MRI, EEG/ERP) as well as quantitative and qualitative measures. With a better understanding of the mechanisms by which stress affects pregnant families and how potential resiliency factors such as mindfulness and compassion may be linked to more positive outcomes, we can intervene at critical points, such as pregnancy and postpartum, to buffer the effects of stress on the developing parent-child dyad.

Currently, I am collecting longitudinal data from pregnant individuals and their partners about their trait mindfulness and self-compassion throughout pregnant and postpartum in a large NIMH funded trial. This research aims to answer the questions: (1) How is mindfulness related to overall health (mental and physical) in pregnancy and postpartum in both parents? (2) How is mindfulness in pregnancy and postpartum related to maternal and infant HPA functioning? (3) How is mindfulness prenatally in both parents related to early infant brain development? (4) How is mindfulness during the postpartum period related to sensitive parenting?

How mindfulness and compassion practice buffers individuals from the chronic and toxic stress during pregnancy for ALL families. 

Mindfulness and compassion interventions are known to improve mental and physical
health, emotion regulation and overall wellbeing. However little is known about these interventions in the perinatal period , including how these interventions are related to infant outcomes. Furthermore, many of these interventions are not available to ALL families, including people of color, those experiencing poverty, and families living in rural areas. Mindfulness and compassion intervention research show promise for improving regulation of stress, mental health symptoms and physical health. My research aims to understand how interventions to regulate emotion and the nervous system, such as yoga, mindfulness and compassion practice may affect the wellbeing of ALL parent-child dyads.  My research aims to test an mHealth intervention, the Mindful Mamas™ app, as one method to allow broad dissemination of these interventions. This collaborative research will be integrated into prenatal and behavioral health settings to maximize reach to families.

How a dyadic, attachment-oriented, mindfulness intervention affect the wellbeing of new parents and their infants.

No relationship is as powerful as the one between caregiver and child. However, many parents who are exposed to chronic stress (current and past stress including child maltreatment) may have difficulty regulating their own emotions during times of stressful parenting. Harsher parenting is associated with poorer child outcomes and increased child maltreatment. However, not everyone exposed to toxic stress have difficulty regulating emotion, many thrive and are wonderful, sensitive parents. This intervention employs techniques of mindfulness, compassion and infant mental health in a group of postpartum parents and their children who are at risk or have been exposed to relational violence. The research aims to understand if the intervention improves stress regulation under parenting stress, improves sensitive parenting, and infant behavior.