"We never thought that a class series meant to help the parents manage the stresses of parenthood would have an impact on birth outcomes as well," says Mark Feinberg, research professor at Penn State University’s Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development. He also developed Family Foundations, a series of classes for expectant parents, which has proven very helpful in improving maternal mental health.
In two research trials, the Family Foundations program has effectively improved the way parents support each other by reducing prenatal stress, depression, and anxiety. These three factors have also been linked to the babies’ low birth weight, and to longer hospital stays after birth.
The study, published in Maternal and Child Health Care Journal, looked at 399 participating couples who answered survey questions to assess the mother’s levels of depression, anxiety, and financial strain. The couples were randomly assigned to take parenting classes—five during pregnancy, and another four after birth—while those in the control group had parenting classes mailed to them. Researchers found that taking parenting classes buffered the negative influence that impact the mom’s stress levels which lead to higher birth weight for their babies and shorter hospital stay after birth.
These latest findings support the results of a previous Family Foundations study, where the program was found to improve birth outcomes for mothers found to have moderate to high levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol during pregnancy.
Indeed, one of the ways to reduce stress during pregnancy is to know what is coming. In an article on SmartParenting.com.ph, Irina Otmakhova, an internationally-certified doula and hypno-doula based in Quezon City, explains that fear of the unknown largely contributes to an expectant mom’s stress. "This is why knowing what to expect and the ways to deal with different situations will give you the necessary peace of mind.” Birth doula Velvet Escario-Roxas also emphasizes the importance of having your husband or friends and family around for support during pregnancy.