Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Spotlight: Dr. Roopali Donepudi


Reducing Acute Maternal Stress Caused by a Fetal Abnormality Diagnosis

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Roopali Donepudi
Dr. Roopali Donepudi

Can a simple smartphone app provide pregnant women the help they need to cope with a fetal abnormality diagnosis?

It’s a question Baylor College of Medicine Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist Dr. Roopali Donepudi hopes to answer through a new study underway at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women.

“We know from a previous study that pregnant women diagnosed with a fetal abnormality were found to have higher levels of anxiety and depression, and they may not be long term,” said Dr. Donepudi. “In many cases, patients may just need an intervention to help during that acute period of stress following their diagnosis or right after delivery, when they’re wondering what’s going to happen to their baby.”

“Our goal with this follow-up study is to see if there is a simple intervention we can offer that provides the care these high-risk patients need, when they need it,” she continued.

“We are so fortunate to have The Women’s Place – Center for Reproductive Psychiatry here to refer patients to, but for most women, accessing a therapist or psychiatrist isn’t easy. If we can find simpler tools to help these patients, it could have a major impact on women everywhere who are facing a fetal abnormality diagnosis.”

For their research, they wanted to start with a simple tool that was easily accessible and easy for patients to use, she noted. “Since most people have smartphones, we chose a meditation and mindfulness app, Expectful, designed specifically for pregnant women. We teamed up with the company to offer the app free to all study participants.”

The one-year study is open to pregnant women with a fetal abnormality who have their imaging, diagnosis, and delivery at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women.

The study will assess the intervention’s impact in three ways, as Dr. Donepudi explained.

“First, we’ll use a simple survey that patients complete throughout the course of their pregnancy and after delivery. Second, we’ll get immediate biofeedback on the mother’s heart rate variability before and after they use the mindfulness tool, to see how their body is responding. Third, we’ll use a small blood sample to assess serum biomarkers in the lab to see if the app is making an even deeper impact on stress levels.”

“There is a lot of awareness around mental health today, especially during pregnancy and postpartum,” added Dr. Donepudi, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of both the perinatal surgery and fetal intervention fellowship programs. “Our focus is on moving beyond screening and identifying needs, to finding immediate ways to help these patients.”