Researchers Update a Postpartum Depression Prevention Intervention for the COVID-19 Context

September 18, 2023

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WASHINGTON, DC (September 18, 2023)—Immigrant Latinas have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression than the general population, and the COVID-19 response created barriers to engagement with in-person support groups. To address mental health during the pandemic, a team of researchers adapted the established Mothers and Babies intervention for an enhanced online group format and pilot tested it with 49 Spanish-speaking mothers. The study reporting their findings is the Editor's Choice for the September/October issue of Women's Health Issues.

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based at the Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

Rheanna Platt of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and her colleagues worked with early learning centers whose staff identified Spanish-speaking mothers who seemed likely to benefit from the intervention. Staff and participants helped the researchers adapt Mothers and Babies — an evidence-based intervention recognized by the US Preventive Services Task Force as one of the two most efficacious interventions for preventing postpartum depression — for a virtual group format. Compared to the standard in-person Mothers and Babies group sessions, the adapted version had more and shorter sessions conducted via videoconference, and each session included a 15-minute question-and-answer session with a pediatrician addressing COVID-19-related topics and other child development and health care issues. The adapted intervention also included assistance with accessing food-related resources and provided participants with text-message reminders and content. 

The researchers used surveys administered before and after the intervention and interviews after its conclusion to evaluate the enhanced virtual group form of Mothers and Babies. They found significant reductions in depressive symptoms and parenting distress and improved self-efficacy to manage emotions. Participants described both benefits and drawbacks to the virtual format and appreciated the additional components of discussions with a pediatrician, assistance with applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and group text messaging.

Platt and colleagues explained that they included the new components in response to the disproportionate health and economic impacts of COVID-19 on immigrant communities, but participants’ appreciation for them suggests that they might be beneficial even outside of a pandemic context. The pilot study results, they write, “provide initial evidence for the acceptability, feasibility, and effectiveness of an enhanced virtual group [postpartum depression] prevention program for immigrant Latinas, delivered in partnership with local early learning centers.”

“The team behind this study showed both creativity in adapting an intervention for COVID circumstances and rigor in evaluating it,” said Karen McDonnell, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “Their work identifies a new avenue for helping parents improve their mental health and raise healthy children.”

A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of Virtually Delivered Group-based Mothers and Babies for Latina Immigrant Mothers” has been published in the September/October 2023 issue of Women’s Health Issues.