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Pregnant women and depression: New app may help

VCU leads U.S. study of self-care app for pregnant and postpartum women with depression.

Pregnant woman

By Joan Tupponce

Nearly 20% of women in the United States experience depression during pregnancy or after childbirth (postpartum). VCU researcher Patricia Kinser, Ph.D., is studying a mobile app that could benefit these women by helping prevent symptoms or helping them cope with the symptoms they have.

“At present, no systematic, app-based, self-management approaches designed to prevent or treat perinatal depressive symptoms exist in the U.S.,” said Kinser, an associate professor in the VCU School of Nursing and co-director of perinatal mental health research at the VCU Institute for Women’s Health. Perinatal refers to the weeks just before or after giving birth.

Kinser was awarded almost $2.3 million from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health earlier this year for a five-year study focusing on an app-based self-care program that will prevent and reduce perinatal depression.

The “Mamma Mia” app is a self-guided program that women would begin early in their pregnancy and complete by six months postpartum. The app has a wide variety of content, ranging from information about mindfulness and gratitude practices to breastfeeding and reading infant cues.

“Even though we hope it will help with preventing depression, it’s not just about depression. It’s supportive through postpartum,” Kinser said.

Researchers around the world are studying “Mamma Mia”

Mamma Mia was created in Norway, where U.S. and Norwegian scientists determined the app was feasible and effective. They then piloted a demonstration version in the U.S. “The study we are doing now builds upon our findings by adapting the intervention for a diverse U.S. audience,” said Kinser, lead principal investigator for the multisite U.S. study.

Kinser is also working with German scientists. “We want to test this in multiple countries and languages,” she said. “This is something we can make more widely available across the globe if things go well.”

You, too, can participate

Kinser’s research team is actively recruiting women for the U.S. study. Interested women can learn more at www.MammaMiaStudy.org.



“Obviously, this app was not originally designed with the pandemic in mind,” Kinser said. “But because it is an online app-based system, it can provide resources to pregnant and postpartum women despite the fact that they have to be socially distancing.”

Enrolled pregnant women will be randomly assigned to one of three groups: 

  • Mamma Mia, where they will go through 44 modules throughout their pregnancy and the first six months postpartum

  • Mamma Mia Plus, where they will receive brief guided support from a registered nurse in addition to the modules or the usual prenatal/postpartum care

  • The control group, which will not have access to the app

“We intend to recruit almost 2,000 women nationwide,” Kinser said. “If proven effective, Mamma Mia may be a low-cost, sustainable and translatable option for the prevention of and intervention in perinatal depressive symptoms.”

Sara Moyer, a registered nurse, is in charge of recruiting participants and working with those in the Mamma Mia Plus group. The recruitment process started Oct. 15 and will continue through the five years of the study, or until the goal of 2,000 participants is reached.

“We have more than 20 participants enrolled already,” Moyer said. “We’ve had an impressive amount of interest, which speaks to the importance of the work we are doing.”

If it is successful, the app can help enhance women’s confidence during the perinatal period.

“Hopefully, it will improve maternal and child outcomes,” Kinser said.

Worried about being pregnant during COVID-19?

Doctors Sarah Milton, obstetrician and gynecologist, and Tiffany Kimbrough, pediatrician and medical director of our mother/infant unit, offer tips and encouragement for pregnant women worried about giving birth during the COVID-19 pandemic.