Maureen Perry-Jenkins Receives the UMass Life Science Moment Fund Award!

Maureen Perry-Jenkins, PhD, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Director of Center for Research on Families, UMass Amherst and Nancy Byatt, DO, MS, MBA, Associate Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology, UMass Medical School have been awarded the UMass Life Science Moment Fund Award! This fund supports inter-campus projects based in clinical and translational research. Projects are envisioned to produce meaningful health outcomes while strengthening faculty-to-faculty networks within the University.

The goal of the researchers’ community-based study is to adapt and test the feasibility of a group-based intervention aimed at reducing depression and stress (both perceived and physiological stress) among low-income new mothers and their partners early in pregnancy. Currently, there is great disparity between the rates of perinatal depression among low-income and middle-class mothers, with low-income mothers experiencing poorer mental health. One reason for this disparity is due to more parenting stressors, which may be affecting their mothers' and fathers' mental health and the healthy development of their child.

Perry-Jenkins and Byatt will partner with Square One and the Children’s Trust, who lead parent education programs in the state for low-income parents. The group-based intervention, based on evidence-based programming by Drs. Marsha Pruett and Rob Straus, will be conducted at Square One of Springfield, MA.  The intervention will adapt the Choices in Childbirth & Co-Parenting (3CP) program aimed at supporting low-income couples through the transition to parenthood. The 3CP program will be adapted to (1) address the unique needs of mothers and partners in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, and (2) strengthen the focus on building the co-parenting relationship and reducing stress and depression.

The 6-session 3CP program will allow eight couples to learn from two Healthy Family Educators through presentations, interactive sessions and discussions between mother and their partner or support-person. After the first group intervention, the process will be repeated two more times, resulting in three intervention groups. Innovative aspects of this study include supporting new parents very early in pregnancy, and evaluating and building a sustainable structure for prenatal interventions in the Springfield community aimed at supporting vulnerable families around the birth of a child. Also, data will be collected on two different aspects of potential stress, both self-reported stress and biological indicators of stress in the hormone cortisol. Understanding dysregulation (chronic levels and diurnal rhythm of cortisol) in mothers' cortisol early in pregnancy will help to clarify intervention effects on stress reduction and perinatal depression.