Effects of relaxation interventions during pregnancy on maternal mental health, and pregnancy and newborn outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2024 Jan 25;19(1):e0278432. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0278432. eCollection 2024.


Background: Stress during pregnancy is detrimental to maternal health, pregnancy and birth outcomes and various preventive relaxation interventions have been developed. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate their effectiveness in terms of maternal mental health, pregnancy and birth outcomes.

Method: The protocol for this review is published on PROSPERO with registration number CRD42020187443. A systematic search of major databases was conducted. Primary outcomes were maternal mental health problems (stress, anxiety, depression), and pregnancy (gestational age, labour duration, delivery mode) and birth outcomes (birth weight, Apgar score, preterm birth). Randomized controlled trials or quasi-experimental studies were eligible. Meta-analyses using a random-effects model was conducted for outcomes with sufficient data. For other outcomes a narrative review was undertaken.

Result: We reviewed 32 studies comprising 3,979 pregnant women aged 18 to 40 years. Relaxation interventions included yoga, music, Benson relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), deep breathing relaxation (BR), guided imagery, mindfulness and hypnosis. Intervention duration ranged from brief experiment (~10 minutes) to 6 months of daily relaxation. Meta-analyses showed relaxation therapy reduced maternal stress (-4.1 points; 95% Confidence Interval (CI): -7.4, -0.9; 9 trials; 1113 participants), anxiety (-5.04 points; 95% CI: -8.2, -1.9; 10 trials; 1965 participants) and depressive symptoms (-2.3 points; 95% CI: -3.4, -1.3; 7 trials; 733 participants). Relaxation has also increased offspring birth weight (80 g, 95% CI: 1, 157; 8 trials; 1239 participants), explained by PMR (165g, 95% CI: 100, 231; 4 trials; 587 participants) in sub-group analysis. In five trials evaluating maternal physiological responses, relaxation therapy optimized blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. Four trials showed relaxation therapy reduced duration of labour. Apgar score only improved significantly in two of six trials. One of three trials showed a significant increase in birth length, and one of three trials showed a significant increase in gestational age. Two of six trials examining delivery mode showed significantly increased spontaneous vaginal delivery and decreased instrumental delivery or cesarean section following a relaxation intervention.

Discussion: We found consistent evidence for beneficial effects of relaxation interventions in reducing maternal stress, improving mental health, and some evidence for improved maternal physiological outcomes. In addition, we found a positive effect of relaxation interventions on birth weight and inconsistent effects on other pregnancy or birth outcomes. High quality adequately powered trials are needed to examine impacts of relaxation interventions on newborns and offspring health outcomes.

Conclusion: In addition to benefits for mothers, relaxation interventions provided during pregnancy improved birth weight and hold some promise for improving newborn outcomes; therefore, this approach strongly merits further research.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Cesarean Section
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Maternal Health
  • Mental Health
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth*