A small study out of the University of Michigan suggests that “mindfulness” yoga can reduce symptoms in pregnant women suffering from depression.
“We hear about pregnant women trying yoga to reduce stress but there’s no data on how effective this method is,” said lead author Maria Muzik, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of psychiatry. “Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression. This promotes both mother and baby well-being.”
As many as one in five women experience major depression during pregnancy. The Huffington Post is running a series on prenatal depression this week– the stories are striking and familiar to anyone who works with pregnancy women. But the solutions are still elusive for many. Severe depression can be crippling for the mother and may lead to health risks including low birth weight babies, premature labor and difficulty bonding. There are various root causes of prenatal depression– it may be a hormonal trigger, it may be social stressors and/or prior history of depression. Depending on the cause the treatment can include talk therapy, social support and/or medication. But the current prenatal health care system is not adequately set up to screen for, diagnose and treat depression or other prenatal mood disorders.
“Unfortunately, few women suffering from perinatal health disorders receive treatment, exposing them and their child to the negative impact of psychiatric illness during one of the most vulnerable times. That’s why developing feasible alternatives for treatment is critical.”
In the pilot study women who showed signs of depression in early-to-mid-pregnancy were put through a 10 week series of 90-minute mindful yoga sessions rather than medication. According to the abstract, “symptoms of depression were significantly reduced, while mindfulness and maternal-fetal attachment significantly increased.”
This study is way too small to be of any real significance. But it doesn’t surprise me that mindfulness and yoga can help during pregnancy. I practiced a variation on mindful yoga for a year after the birth of my second baby and found it to be invaluable– the physical workout was great but the psychological aspects of the classes (focus, acceptance, meditation) helped me immensely when I felt overwhelmed and/or frustrated in the land of crying babies and sleep deprivation. Mindfulness can be an extraordinarily useful tool for new mothers.
As for whether this kind of practice can help with clinical depression? Well, I imagine it depends on what’s causing the depression and what else is being done to help treat it.
I highly recommend the book Mindful Motherhood to anyone interested in this approach.
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photo: Christy Scherrer/Flickr