The Mindful Transition to Parenthood Program: Developing and Evaluating a Psychoeducational-Experiential Intervention for Couples Expecting Their First Child

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Virginia Tech

The transition from partnership to parenthood can be a time of excitement and rapid change for couples. After the birth of a first child, many couples also experience declines in relationship satisfaction leading to increased risk of relationship dissolution, postpartum depression, and negative child outcomes. Considering the frequency of this transition and the connection between parent relationship quality and health, it is surprising that relatively few intervention programs have focused on preparing couples for this life transition. Hence, I have developed a four week relationship enhancement intervention entitled the Mindful Transition to Parenting Program. This program is based on interpersonal neurobiology, which states that mindfulness training can change brain structures that can lead to increased attunement abilities and sustained improvements in relationship quality. The program focuses on improving mindfulness, empathy, emotionality, and relationship satisfaction for couples expecting their first child. In this research study, I determined the outcomes for couples who participate in this program through mixed methods research with a randomized experimental design. Thirty-three couples were randomly assigned by a coin-toss to either a waitlist control group, or the Mindful Transition to Parenting Program treatment group. Results demonstrated that men in the treatment group significantly improved in relationship satisfaction, negative affect, and mindfulness when compared to the control group. Women had no significant treatment effects, though treatment group women had small effect size improvement in three measures of empathy. The emergent qualitative themes for participants in the program included: (1) positive changes for self, (2) improvements in couple relationship, (3) feeling more prepared for baby, and (4) male involvement. Mixed methods analyses revealed that men in particular benefited from the social support, increased connection with their babies, and more identification with the role of father that the program provided. These are promising results, showing that a brief intervention including mindfulness and skill-based learning can have positive effects on couples in the transition to parenthood. I conclude by discussing clinical implications and future research directions.

relationship education, prenatal, mixed methods, attunement, mindfulness