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Perinatal mental health difficulties are associated with adverse consequences for parents and infants. However, the potential risks associated with the use of psychotropic medication for pregnant and breastfeeding women and the preferences expressed by women for non-pharmacological interventions mean it is important to ensure that effective psychological interventions are available. It has been argued that mindfulness-based interventions may offer a novel approach to treating perinatal mental health difficulties, but relatively little is known about their effectiveness with perinatal populations. This paper therefore presents a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions for reducing depression, anxiety and stress and improving mindfulness skills in the perinatal period. A systematic review identified seventeen studies of mindfulness-based interventions in the perinatal period, including both controlled trials (n = 9) and pre-post uncontrolled studies (n = 8). Eight of these studies also included qualitative data. Hedge's g was used to assess uncontrolled and controlled effect sizes in separate meta-analyses, and a narrative synthesis of qualitative data was produced. Pre- to post-analyses showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety and stress and significant increases in mindfulness skills post intervention, each with small to medium effect sizes. Completion of the mindfulness-based interventions was reasonable with around three quarters of participants meeting study-defined criteria for engagement or completion where this was recorded. Qualitative data suggested that participants viewed mindfulness interventions positively. However, between-group analyses failed to find any significant post-intervention benefits for depression, anxiety or stress of mindfulness-based interventions in comparison to control conditions: effect sizes were negligible and it was conspicuous that intervention group participants did not appear to improve significantly more than controls in their mindfulness skills. The interventions offered often deviated from traditional mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or mindfulness-based stress reduction programmes, and there was also a tendency for studies to focus on healthy rather than clinical populations, and on antenatal rather than postnatal populations. It is argued that these and other limitations with the included studies and their interventions may have been partly responsible for the lack of significant between-group effects. The implications of the findings and recommendations for future research are discussed.
The importance of compassion is widely recognized and it is receiving increasing research attention. Yet, there is lack of consensus on definition and a paucity of psychometrically robust measures of this construct. Without an agreed definition and adequate measures, we cannot study compassion, measure compassion or evaluate whether interventions designed to enhance compassion are effective. In response, this paper proposes a definition of compassion and offers a systematic review of self- and observer-rated measures. Following consolidation of existing definitions, we propose that compassion consists of five elements: recognizing suffering, understanding the universality of human suffering, feeling for the person suffering, tolerating uncomfortable feelings, and motivation to act/acting to alleviate suffering. Three databases were searched (Web of Science, PsycInfo, and Medline) and nine measures included and rated for quality. Quality ratings ranged from 2 to 7 out of 14 with low ratings due to poor internal consistency for subscales, insufficient evidence for factor structure and/or failure to examine floor/ceiling effects, test–retest reliability, and discriminant validity. We call our five-element definition, and if supported, the development of a measure of compassion based on this operational definition, and which demonstrates adequate psychometric properties.