Pregnancy can be an exciting time for the mother and her family. The ability of a woman’s body to create and deliver life is certainly amazing. However, this process can sometimes be difficult. Pregnancy is a time of transition, a time of physical and emotional change. During pregnancy, many women and most health professionals, as well as society at large, focus on the physical health of the mother. However, research has found that mental health during pregnancy, the antenatal period, is just as important to the mother’s and baby’s health. The stress that can come with this thrilling but sometimes difficult time of change can have emotional, biological and physiological effects. Antenatal depression and anxiety, which occurs in about 10-15% of mothers can have a negative effect on not only the mother’s wellbeing during and after pregnancy but can also have negative effects on the infant influencing their cognitive and behavioural development as well as their ability to cope with stress throughout their development. Antenatal anxiety and depression are known to be the most common predictors of postnatal depression. Therefore, treating maternal mental health early does have beneficial effects pre- and postnatal for mothers and their infants.
Finding a way to manage and cope with anxiety and depression during pregnancy can help many women and their babies during and after pregnancy. Music is a multisensory activity and has been used and shown to help with anxiety and depression. However, there has yet to be a focus on music and its effect as an intervention during the antenatal period. Music as an intervention would be inexpensive, non-stigmatizing, and wide-reaching. We are passionate and dedicated to the prospect of using interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle an important issue facing many families today.
How will this research help?
Our main question is: How can music be used to help women suffering from mild to moderate depression and anxiety during pregnancy?
We are using music that has been specially composed by Jennie Muskett, which uses special tempos, melodic shapes and ideas which aim at reducing stress and enhancing the well-being for the mother and her baby.
For our study, Maternal Moments, we will be working within the NHS to investigate how listing this music, for just 20 minutes a day, might affect mothers who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate antenatal anxiety and/or depression. We are working with perinatal psychiatrists and psychologists to help develop an intervention that has the greatest potential to help these women.
We will follow 150 mothers from 16 weeks until 6 months postpartum to investigate if our music listening intervention can help mothers during and after pregnancy. We not only need to know if music listening can have profound effects on anxiety and mood during pregnancy but also how. To address this we will use both biological and psychological measures. We will take saliva samples to assess cortisol and cytokine levels, which are markers for stress and mental health. We will also use self-report questionnaires. We will also be investigating whether this type of intervention might also have an effect on their infants’ cognitive and behavioural development.
Why is this important?
There have been numerous studies that have shown that maternal mental health can have a dramatic impact on not only the mother but her family and even the wider society. However, even with this information, there is a lack of the availability and accessibility of quality antenatal mental health care. With this project, we believe that we will be able to investigate how something as simple as listening to music for 20 minutes a day might be able to help women and their families suffering from this prevailing problem. However, more importantly, we also believe this project will raise awareness about this issue within our society and promote ways in which we can tackle it.
What do you hope to find out?
We want to know if something as simple as music listening during pregnancy can reduce anxiety and depression in the mother, and even result in improved developmental outcomes for the infant after birth.
The implications of such findings would have potential for enormous impact, in terms of offering a simple, cost effective and non-stigmatizing way for women to take control of their mental health at this most important time.
Katie Rose Sanfilippo
Katie Rose Sanfilippo is a current PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, the University of London within the Music, Mind and Brain Group. Katie Rose holds two undergraduate degrees from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles: a BA in Music with an emphasis in vocal performance and choral conducting and another in psychology. She obtained an MSc in Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths in 2015 and is currently working towards her PhD in psychology under the supervision of Prof.Lauren Stewart. Katie Rose has a passion for serving with and for others in her work, in her research and in her personal life. She has worked with charities such as Choirs Beating Time and Age UK. Katie Rose is highly involved in promoting science and tech education for young women and girls. She is also working part-time as a research assistant at Nordoff Robbins.
Professor Lauren Stewart is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she leads a research group and MSc programme in Music, Mind and Brain. Lauren’s research concerns the psychological and neuroscientific basis of musical behaviour and she has published 70+ peer-reviewed articles on topics including learning and plasticity, congenital amusia, melodic expectations, and tone-colour synaesthesia. Her funding includes awards from the ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy and she is associate editor of the international journal, Psychomusicology: Music, Mind and Brain. She is currently involved in several projects to explore the therapeutic potential of music in individuals with stroke, with childhood hemiplegia, as well as neurodevelopmentally at-risk infants. She was recently appointed co-director of a major new research centre, Music in the Brain centre based at Aarhus University, Denmark.
Professor Vivette Glover is an international expert on the effect of the mother’s emotional state in pregnancy on the development of the fetus and her child. She is Professor of Perinatal Psychobiology at Imperial College London. She originally studied biochemistry at Oxford and did her PhD at University College London. In 1975 she came to work at Queen Charlotte’s and developed an interest in biological psychiatry in relation to pregnancy and the postnatal period. In more recent years she has focused especially on the effect of the mother’s mood on fetal development. She has over 400 publications and is invited to speak, including giving the keynote address, at meetings around the world. She is a special advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary group on the first 1001 days, the NSPCC and Best Beginnings