NEWPORT BEACH, CA — Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian announced the launch of NurtureVR, a first-of-its-kind program for expectant mothers that uses virtual reality (VR) to augment prenatal education, pain management related to pregnancy, mindfulness and support women through postpartum care.
By combining accessible, immersive technology with compassionate, mindful care, NurtureVR bridges innovation with a deep support of women as they journey through pregnancy and into motherhood.
Designed in partnership with VR digital wellness leader BehaVR based in Nashville, NurtureVR will be available in a pilot program involving 30 pregnant women next month.
“The goal is to nurture the relationship of the mother with her growing baby. We have incorporated the insights of women who are pregnant, were recently pregnant or are trying to become pregnant to ensure that no matter what kind of pregnancy you are experiencing, Hoag is going to take care of you the way only Hoag can,” said Allyson Brooks, M.D., the Ginny Ueberroth Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair of Hoag Women’s Health Institute. “How a woman experiences pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period is highly personal. NurtureVR was designed to meet each woman where she is.”
Beginning at 27 weeks, Hoag maternity patients in Newport Beach and Irvine will use VR headsets to access 14 weeks’ worth of educational material, meditation capabilities and other immersive experiences. This includes the ability to upload women’s own 3D ultrasound images for more personalized experiences. After the baby is born, the program continues for an additional eight weeks, with topics that cover maternal-baby bonding, partner intimacy, stress and hormonal and emotional changes.
NurtureVR is built upon decades of research into VR’s ability to mitigate pain, create experiential learning environments, lower stress and improve wellbeing.
“Hoag has incorporated VR technology to assist surgeons with operations since 2015, and the hospital remains a leader in using VR with patients for pain management, patient education and mindfulness” said Robert Louis, M.D, Chief of Neurosurgery and the Empower360 Endowed Chair for Skull Base and Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery, Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag.
“We can see on functional MRIs that VR decreases a patient’s focus on the pain, eases the emotional unpleasantness of pain and even diminishes the physical sensation of pain, itself,” he said. “When you see the before and after, it’s amazing.”
NurtureVR goes far beyond pain management to supporting a woman’s relationship with her baby and her own wellness, Dr. Louis said.
“Our approach is unlike anything else we’re seeing in therapeutic VR or in women’s health. The idea is that VR can serve as a lifelong tool, something women can take with them through the ‘fourth trimester,’ that eight-week period after a baby is born, and beyond,” Dr. Louis said. “They can draw on the meditation mindfulness, stress management and education they experienced through VR throughout their motherhood experience.”
VR engages all four systems of learning in the brain:
The cognitive system, involved in processing information in the pre-frontal cortex
The experiential system, including vision, touch and hearing
The emotional system, for empathy, love and bonding
The behavioral system, which helps support feelings of reward and motivation
“By engaging all four systems of learning synchronously, VR has been proven a highly effective tool for patient education, pain management and mental health and wellness,” said Peter Buecker, MD, Chief Medical Officer of BehaVR. “We are excited to partner with Hoag to bring this tool to women as they journey through pregnancy and into early motherhood.”
Because the VR experience can be customized and individualized for each woman, expectant mothers will experience different environments, sounds and visual experiences, based on their preferences and input. The individual journey is continuously refined and personalized with BehaVR’s Dynamic Experience Engine. This includes everything from a mother’s and baby’s skin tones, to the landscapes a woman sees, to the way a woman chooses to hold her baby while breastfeeding.
“The process of being pregnant is universal but how a woman experiences pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period is individual, and this was designed to honor that,” Dr. Brooks said. “As you invest time in these modules, you’re ‘feeding’ your baby through your thoughts, so you actually see the umbilical cord lighting up as you progress over time. You’re creating this relationship with your baby that is in sync with the baby’s development.”
“This is a truly exciting time at Hoag,” said Walter Greenleaf, Ph.D., of Stanford University and Member of Hoag’s VR Advisory Board. “With the convergence of technologies today, Hoag is accelerating the advancement of VR for patients and now are able to make accurate and objective assessments of an individual’s mood state and stress level, instead of relying on inaccurate, subjective self-reported measurements. This approach allows us to develop new and powerful therapies for patients at Hoag that provide very effective solutions for many of the complex challenges in women’s health.”
Hoag physician leaders anticipate that VR will become the standard for maternal education, pain management, emotional health and support for the coming generation of parents.
“I envision mothers developing a relationship with the VR experience that allows them to feel better about themselves as people, to reduce feelings of angst and confusion and to remind them to take care of themselves,” Dr. Brooks said. “That is one of the reasons we named the program ‘Nurture,’ to underscore the benefits of early relational health and why taking care of mom is so important. We recognize that healthy moms lead to healthy babies which leads to healthy communities, and VR is an exciting new tool to help get us there.”