The Effects of a Prenatal Mindfulness Intervention on Infant Autonomic and Behavioral Reactivity and Regulation

Psychosom Med. 2022 Jun 1;84(5):525-535. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001066. Epub 2022 Mar 10.


Objective: Maternal health and wellness during pregnancy are associated with long-term health outcomes in children. The current study examined whether infants of women who participated in a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy that reduced levels of stress and depression, increased physical activity, and improved glucose tolerance differed on biobehavioral markers of psychopathological and physical health risk compared with infants of women who did not.

Methods: Participants were 135 mother-infant dyads drawn from a racially and ethnically diverse, low-income sample experiencing high stress. The women participated in an intervention trial during pregnancy that involved assignment to either mindfulness-based intervention or treatment-as-usual (TAU). Infants of women from both groups were assessed at 6 months of age on sympathetic (preejection period), parasympathetic (respiratory sinus arrhythmia), and observed behavioral (negativity and object engagement) reactivity and regulation during the still face paradigm. Linear mixed-effects and generalized linear mixed-effects models were used to examine treatment group differences in infant outcomes.

Results: Relative to those in the intervention group, infants in the TAU group showed a delay in sympathetic activation and subsequent recovery across the still face paradigm. In addition, infants in the intervention group engaged in higher proportions of self-regulatory behavior during the paradigm, compared with the TAU group. No significant effect of intervention was found for parasympathetic response or for behavioral negativity during the still face paradigm.

Conclusions: Findings provide evidence that maternal participation in a short-term, group mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy is associated with the early development of salutary profiles of biobehavioral reactivity and regulation in their infants. Because these systems are relevant for psychopathology and physical health, prenatal behavioral interventions may benefit two generations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mindfulness*
  • Mothers
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia* / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy