As demonstrated by a growing number of studies, stress experienced during pregnancy can lead to significant long-term health problems for mothers and their infants. One biological mechanism that has been identified in heightening a woman's risk for developing stress-related health complications during pregnancy and the postpartum period is the stress hormone cortisol. However, the best methods for regulating cortisol, in order to optimize maternal and infant health outcomes, have received little attention. The objective of the proposed research is to conduct a two- arm;pilot randomized controlled study to test the efficacy of a prenatal cognitive behavioral stress management (CBSM) intervention in regulating cortisol and stress levels among low-income pregnant women. A total of 100 women will be randomized to either a group-based, 8-week prenatal CBSM arm (i.e., cognitive coping and relaxation skills training) or a standard-of-care comparison arm (i.e., usual pre- and postnatal care) to examine whether women receiving the CBSM intervention will have significantly lower cortisol output and stress levels, relative to women randomized to the standard-of-care comparison arm. This study will also examine whether these decreases in cortisol and stress levels are mediated through behavior change processes (e.g., increased self- efficacy and use of cognitive coping and relaxation skills). This hypothesis has been formulated on the basis of preliminary data collected by the principal investigator and study collaborators. Through formative research, this pilot work will develop and empirically test a prenatal CBSM stress management intervention among low-income pregnant women for use in local prenatal centers. The results of the proposed work have substantial public health implications and are expected to advance our understanding of how pregnant women effectively use these cognitive coping and relaxation skills to adopt healthy behaviors and produce change that can positively impact their health, as well as that of their infant. Further, the proposed research will yield a CBSM intervention that can be readily delivered in community settings, is scalable, and is relatively low cost. Finally, these results will help identify those subgroups of pregnant women that may do particularly well (or poorly) with these innovative approaches to stress management. This has important implications for the tailoring of CBSM programs to individual needs and preferences.
As demonstrated by a growing number of studies, experiencing high levels of stress during pregnancy, including elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, can lead to significant long-term health problems for mothers and their infants. The objective of the proposed research is to test whether an innovative stress management intervention, offered during pregnancy, is effective in reducing stress and cortisol levels among low-income pregnant women. The results of the proposed work have substantial public health implications in helping to prevent the onset of stress-related health complications among mothers and their infants.