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Nurtured in Nature, a Penn Medicine pilot project, will study if nature can help prevent or cure postpartum depression.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

A new Penn Medicine pilot program aims to find if spending time outdoor spaces can lessen or prevent postpartum depression in new mothers.

Nurtured in Nature is a four-week intervention program for women ages 18 and older who had just had a baby and who lived in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The project was created by Penn Medicine Assistant Professor Dr. Eugenia South, and all research was completed earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Philadelphia in early March.

"With this program, I am hoping to develop something that will connect women from Black communities to nearby nature in a way that may not have been connected before, and positively influence health by doing so," South wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

South wrote that she came up with the idea for the study because green spaces have been proven to have benefits for both physical and mental health, yet there has been no evidence it could help combat postpartum depression. 

Black communities are the main target group for this study, South wrote, as she believes Black women historically "bear the brunt of hundreds of years of racism leading to poor health outcomes across a range of disease entities."

South wrote that the program had two goals: to test a new intervention strategy that would push people to spend time outside and also to set up a larger study to see if spending time outside after giving birth can prevent or lessen postpartum depression.

Though researchers' analysis of the program is not complete, the project has shown anecdotal signs of success, Penn Today reported.

36 women participated in Nurtured in Nature, half of whom were in a control group which received no treatment. The other half received suggestions of nature locations within a 10-minute walk of where they lived. Participants enrolled in the program about one day after each gave birth at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, according to Penn Today.

Looking forward, South wrote she is hoping to study how nature can help other groups, including people with high blood pressure or diabetes.