New research has found that teaching expectant parents to reduce stress, depression and anxiety can result in better birth outcomes such as more optimal birth weight and/or shorter hospital stays after birth.
In this study, 399 couples expecting their first child were randomly assigned to either a series of classes aimed at reducing parental stress, depression and anxiety or a control group.
Those participating in the intervention program called Family Foundations were offered a total of nine classes, five during pregnancy and four after birth.
"We found that the program buffered the negative influence of financial stress and depression on infant birth weight," said Mark Feinberg, research professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US.
"We also found consistent evidence across all three risk indicators measured -- financial stress, depression and anxiety -- that duration of both mother and infant stay in the hospital was reduced for intervention couples compared to controls at higher levels of risk," Feinberg said.
Couples participated in a survey at the start of the study that helped the researchers assess the mothers' levels of depression, anxiety and financial strain as measured by items assessing hardship due to lack of resources, recent need to reduce standard of living and difficulty living on current income.
The recent findings extend results from a prior study of Family Foundations, in which the program was found to improve birth outcomes for mothers with moderate to high levels of cortisol -- a stress-related hormone -- during pregnancy.
"By reducing low birth weight and length of hospital stay for both mother and infant, these preventive strategies may lead to early savings in health care costs," Feinberg said.
The findings were reported the Maternal and Child Health Journal