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Pregnancy Classes can Reduce Complications for Stressed Women

Update Date: Jun 27, 2014 03:09 PM EDT

Pregnancy can be a highly stressful and anxious time for some women. Since excessive levels of stress and anxiety can greatly increase women's risk of pregnancy complications, researchers from Penn State University set out to find ways of effectively reducing these levels. The team created an educational preparation program that teaches expectant couples how to better manage their emotions as well as other aspects of pregnancy and parenthood.

"Because stress, anxiety and depression are widespread, it's crucial to find ways to help pregnant women and their partners become more emotionally healthy during pregnancy without the use of prescription drugs-which may carry side effects for the pregnancy and fetal development," explained Mark E. Feinberg, research professor of health and human development and senior scientist of the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development reported by Medical Xpress.

The program, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is titled Family Foundations. It includes multiple classes catered to expectant couples. The classes teach couples how to manage their emotions, solve problems and develop better communication skills that can improve their relationship with their newborns. It also teaches new parents different techniques of parenting.

The researchers tested Family Foundations on 169 heterosexual couples that were first time parents. The couples were randomly assigned to the program or to a control group that did not have access to the program. The team measured women's stress (cortisol) levels through their saliva.

"Near the end of pregnancy, cortisol levels rise and likely play a role in triggering labor," said Feinberg. "Thus, it may be that pregnant women with relatively high levels of cortisol due to stress and anxiety are more likely to have a preterm birth. Their babies are more likely to have a low birth weight. And those babies are more likely to have longer hospital stays and to be at risk for future health problems."

The researchers found that pregnant women who had high cortisol levels that were in the program had fewer pregnancy complications than women with high stress levels from the control group. Pregnant women who participated in the program also had lower anxiety and depression levels. The researchers believe that the program can greatly help pregnant women dealing with elevated levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The study was published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

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