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Network: Faculty and Staff Resources

The link between stress and pregnancy

Using what we know to ask more questions about stress and pregnancy

Professor Coussons-Read studies how changes in the immune system related to stress can affect pregnancy

Society in general has come a long way in accepting and better understanding how stress, social support and cultural factors can affect health.

Mary Coussons-Read, PhD, professor in Psychology and associate vice chancellor for Research at CU Denver, continues to look at how changes in the immune and endocrine systems related to external stress can affect pregnancy and birth outcomes.

“The next logical step is to use our existing research to further explore what approaches and treatments could be most helpful to addressing pregnancy outcomes,” said Coussons-Read.

To move forward, Coussons-Read was awarded a Center for Faculty Development grant to develop and conduct new intervention-focused research. This effort includes collaboration with colleagues at The Ohio State University (OSU) focused on using behavioral intervention to prevent negative effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy.

The research will involve several dozen women – half of the participants Caucasian and half English-speaking Latina – during their first trimester of pregnancy. Using the Low Dose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction intervention (MBSRld) developed by Maryanna Klatt, PhD, women will learn how to reduce stress and take a  more mindful approach to their health during pregnancy. During the six-week MBSRld program, participants meet weekly in group sessions to learn and practice techniques of mindfulness, gentle yoga and relaxation. Blood samples will be collected from participants during regularly scheduled prenatal blood tests to assess levels of stress hormones and other biomarkers that are associated with stress and preterm birth. The MBSRld approach has proven effective in reducing stress, improving quality of life, and supporting patient mental health among cancer survivors and other clinical populations.

Results of this research are expected to be analyzed mid-2012 in anticipation of submitting a proposal for additional funding support through other agencies.