According to a new study conducted at the University of Michigan, USA, doing mindfulness yoga for 10 weeks can decrease depression symptoms in high risk pregnant women, and boost feelings of bonding between mothers and their unborn babies.
Depression already affects up to one in five pregnant women, however this new small study sheds some hope on combating this common medical illness.
Mindfulness yoga, an alternative to antidepressant medication
The research was published in the Journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
“Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” study researcher Dr. Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”
The study involved 18 women who were between 12 and 26 weeks pregnant, and who were considered high risk, judging from their high Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screen scores.
“Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression,” added Muzik. “This promotes both mother and baby well-being.”
Before undergoing 10 weeks on 90-minute sessions of mindfulness yoga, the women also self-rated their depressive symptoms, attachment to their unborn children and their mindfulness.
According to researchers, while medications such as antidepressants can help treat women with depressive symptoms during pregnancy, many women are reluctant to receive such treatment while they are pregnant, as they are often worried that it is unsafe for their unborn child.
An earlier study showed that pregnant women taking certain antidepressants may be more likely to deliver infants with reduced head growth.
According to that study, although selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil and Prozac relieved depression in these women, they appeared to be associated with a higher risk of preterm birth.
“Fetal body growth is a marker of fetal health and fetal head growth is a marker for brain development,” said lead researcher Hanan El Marroun, a postdoctorate fellow in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Sophia Children’s Hospital and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “We found prenatal exposure to SSRIs was associated with decreased growth of the head, but not decreased growth of the body.”
In mothers with untreated depression, the babies had smaller growth in both the body and head, the investigators found.
“If the depression is untreated, it affected the whole body; but if the mother used SSRIs, the head growth of the fetus was affected,” El Marroun noted. “This may mean that smaller head growth is not explained by depression, but by the SSRIs.”
“That’s why developing feasible alternatives for treatment is critical,” Muzik said in the statement.
The Mayo Clinic asserts that yoga can benefit moms beyond their mental health, saying that it can also help alleviate back pain, nausea, improve muscle strength and sleep. According to Mayo Clinic, it could also decrease the risk of labour related conditions such as preterm labour and high blood pressure as a result of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, mindfulness yoga – which combines meditative focus with physical poses – has proven to be a powerful method to fight stress and boost energy.
Yoga developed specifically for pregnant women may differ from other kinds of yoga. It’s important to speak to your doctor before taking up yoga during pregnancy to make sure that it is safe for both you and your baby, advises the Mayo Clinic.
Mental health disorders during pregnancy
Mental health disorders during pregnancy, including depression and anxiety, have become a serious health concern. Hormonal changes, genetic predisposition and social factors set the stage for some expectant moms to experience persistent irritability, feelings of being overwhelmed and inability to cope with stress.
These symptoms bear major health risks for both mom and baby such as poor weight gain, preeclampsia, premature labour and trouble bonding with the new baby.