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Relaxation During Pregnancy: What Are the Benefits for Mother, Fetus, and the Newborn? A Systematic Review of the Literature

Fink, Nadine S. PhD; Urech, Corinne PhD; Cavelti, Marialuisa MSc; Alder, Judith PhD

The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing: October/December 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 4 - p 296–306
doi: 10.1097/JPN.0b013e31823f565b
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Previous studies have reported associations between maternal stress during pregnancy and obstetric outcomes as well as fetal development and neonatal adaptation. These findings highlight the importance of identifying pregnant women who experience severe stress and the need for interventions that commence early in pregnancy. The aim of this study was to review studies that investigated the effects of relaxation techniques during pregnancy, including maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcomes. In addition, studies examining maternal endocrine and physiological alterations were reviewed. PubMed was searched using the following key words: maternal well-being, maternal stress, relaxation techniques, pregnancy, fetal neurobehavior, fetal heart rate, neonatal adaptation, and neonatal behavior. (1) Relaxation had a positive impact on women's emotional state. (2) Pregnancy outcomes improved with fewer admissions to the hospital, fewer obstetric complications, longer gestation, reduction of caesarean sections, and fewer postpartum complications. (3) Fetal heart rate and fetal motor activity were reduced as a result of relaxation and therefore interpreted as improved result. (4) Higher-birth-weight and improved performance on the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale was related to relaxation. (5) Relaxation training was associated with reductions in maternal physiological and endocrine measures. Relaxation during pregnancy is associated with salutogenic effects that include regulation of emotional states and physiology. Relaxation is also associated with positive effects both on fetal behavior and on obstetric and neonatal outcomes. Identifying pregnant women at risk and instituting treatment early in pregnancy could improve obstetric and developmental outcomes for both the mother and her fetus.

Department of Newborn Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts (Dr Fink); Department of Personality and Developmental Psychology, University of Basel (Dr Fink); and Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Drs Urech and Alder) and Psychiatric Policlinic (Ms Cavelti), University Hospital Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Corresponding Author: Nadine S. Fink, PhD, Department of Newborn Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 75 Francis St, Boston, MA 02115 (nadine.fink@childrens.harvard.edu).

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Disclosure: The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

Submitted for publication: January 5, 2011; accepted for publication: October 28, 2011.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.