Understanding and addressing the effects of perinatal stress and parenting
Parents are children’s first and most important influences in life, and sensitive, responsive, consistent parenting supports children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. However, the stress and adversity associated with economic strain can make it challenging for parents for maintain sensitive, responsive relationships with their infants and can interfere with their own emotional well-being. NEW Moms Connect aims to strengthen emotional well-being and effective parenting in soon-to-be and new mothers experiencing low income and poverty.
What is NEW Moms Connect?
NEW Moms Connect is a study that compares the effects of addressing mothers’ well-being during the perinatal period as well as their parenting behaviors on infants’ neurobiological development. A key goal of this research is to disentangle the effects of prenatal programming of stress, postnatal parent stress and mental health, and sensitive, responsive parenting practices on infant well-being.
Adversity and stress have profound effects on children’s development. They can affect children’s neurobiological systems underlying executive function, emotion regulation, neuroendocrine stress responses, and social-emotional capacities. These effects are evident as early as the first year of life. A number of processes might account for these effects. These include epigenetic or intergenerational transmission of adversity “embodied” in mothers’ neurobiology, prenatal programming of infant stress systems, parent mental health, and parenting practices. One goal of NEW Moms Connect is to disentangle how each of these factors is affecting different aspects of infant self-regulation and well-being.
Our prior research shows that when parents maintain effective parenting despite the presence of economic disadvantage and adversity, young children demonstrate higher levels of social-emotional well-being. Thus, we propose that supporting maternal well-being and effective parenting during the perinatal period can potentially offset or mitigate the impact of pre- or postnatal stress and adversity on infant development and well-being.
What we’re studying
Using an intervention study that addresses stress and parenting challenges that arise in new parents experiencing adversity, this research compares the effects of addressing mothers’ well-being during the perinatal period, as well as their parenting behaviors on infants’ neurobiological development. A key goal of this research is to disentangle the effects of prenatal programming of stress, postnatal parent stress and mental health, and sensitive, responsive parenting practices on infant well-being.
The study compares three different programs that address a mother’s well-being or parenting during the perinatal period. Each program is six-weeks and delivered in a group format. The three programs include:
1. A prenatal childbirth program that incorporates mindfulness-based stress management and self-care practices that support healthy and positive childbirth experiences. This program is adapted from Nancy Bardake’s Mindfulness-Based Child Birth and Parenting program.
2. A program for new moms that provides mindfulness-based stress management and self-care practices that ease the transition to being a new parent and support positive connections with their babies.
3. SEACAP- Infant: A program for new moms that provides parenting and mindfulness practices to support for sensitive, responsive, consistent parenting and positive parent-infant relationships. This intervention is an adaptation of our original SEACAP program.
We anticipate that the three programs may have different effects on a range of infant outcomes. This information will be formative to specifying the effects of prenatal programming, parent stress/mental health, and parenting on different infant neurobiological systems.
What we’re learning
Our research explores brief interventions that may support maternal well-being and effective parenting practices. Strengthening these areas might shape infants’ neurobiologically based systems of self-regulation, including their response to stress, emotional regulation and executive function. These in turn might promote infants’ emotion regulation, pro-social behaviors, and social-emotional well-being.
Lengua, L.J., Thompson, S.F., Calhoun, R. et al. Preliminary Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Perinatal Mindfulness-Based Well-Being and Parenting Programs for Low-Income New Mothers. Mindfulness (2023).
We are interested in knowing if an online version of our programs will be more easily accessible for new parents. We are testing this in our NEW Parents Connect program. Learn more here.
We will continue to seek funding to evaluate community-based implementation of the programs to promote well-being in new mothers and their infants and to develop training opportunities for perinatal providers to incorporate the programs into their work with new parents.