Mindful meditation could reduce anxiety in women who require hospitalization during pregnancy

Researchers are investigating if daily mindful meditation through an app could decrease anxiety in antepartum patients, who are hospitalized due to pregnancy complications, in a new trial at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

“Antepartum patients are high-risk and face many stressors, including being away from the comforts of home for long periods of time, new diagnoses, and a possibly premature baby requiring an extended stay in the neonatal intensive care unit,” said principal investigator Morgen Doty, DO, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “I saw this firsthand, as my sister-in-law was hospitalized for a significant portion of her pregnancy. Watching her navigate that experience inspired me to try to find a way to help women cope, and we’re hopeful that mindful meditation can provide a viable option.”

The study, called Meditate, is open to existing patients of UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School, at three sites: Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, and Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital.

Anxiety and stress during pregnancy can affect child development and increase risk of preterm birth, Doty said. Last year, a UTHealth prospective study evaluated stress, anxiety, and depression levels in both inpatient and outpatient pregnant women, and initial results suggest higher anxiety and stress in women admitted to the hospital.

Researchers hope to determine whether the addition of a daily mindful meditation app program to routine care will decrease maternal state anxiety at three days after initiation of intervention.

“We chose to focus in on anxiety, as it is such a common condition for antepartum patients, and yet there is limited research available on how outcomes can be improved,” Doty said. “Also, most previous studies on mindful meditation were conducted in an outpatient setting in low-risk pregnancies. It is critical for these women in the inpatient obstetrics population to be provided a way to manage, without taking medication.”

Mindful meditation differs from other forms of meditation in that it does not require an escape of thoughts; rather, it teaches an appreciation, acceptance, and awareness of the current moment. 

“Mindful meditation helps you accept your current state as it is, and it could be beneficial for even more than just anxiety,” Doty said. “It could also help decrease stress levels, increase patient satisfaction, and improve overall health, and we’ll be studying those outcomes as secondary measures during the trial.”

Only existing patients at UT Physicians Women’s Centers will be eligible for the randomized and controlled study, and once enrolled, they’ll be assigned to one of two groups. The intervention group will receive routine care, be introduced to mindful meditation by a certified instructor from Mindful Living, and perform a 10-minute mindful meditation session through a free app twice a day. Participants in the control group will receive routine care and read educational pamphlets from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology about health during and after pregnancy.

“I started practicing mindful mediation before this study was developed, and find it to be helpful in centering myself, especially in stressful situations.” Doty said. “It has helped me to accept the obstacles life throws at you, and I hope it can do the same for women in the hospital during their pregnancy.”

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