Could yoga lessen prenatal depression?

Could yoga lessen prenatal depression?

7:28 AM, 27th June 2015
Could yoga lessen prenatal depression?
Pregnant women are often reluctant to use medications to ease depression. Early research suggests that yoga and mindfulness could be an attractive option. © Stephanie Ewens, Photography

PROVIDENCE, US: In a small pilot study, researchers at Brown University, Butler Hospital, and Women & Infants’ Hospital have found evidence suggesting that yoga could help pregnant women with significant depression reduce the severity of the mood disorder.

“This is really about trying to develop a wider range of options that suit women who are experiencing these kind of symptoms during pregnancy,” said lead author Cynthia Battle, associate professor of psychiatry and human behaviour in the Alpert Medical School of Brown and a psychologist at Butler and Women & Infants. “What we don’t want to do is have people fall through the cracks.”

A few small studies have also suggested that yoga and mindfulness-based approaches could help prevent or treat depression during pregnancy. Battle’s study, published in the journal Women’s Health Issues, is an initial test of whether a 10-week program of prenatal yoga, structured to be similar to yoga programs available to pregnant women in many communities, could be feasible, acceptable, safe, and effective for mild to moderately depressed women.

“What we feel like we’ve learned from this open pilot trial is that prenatal yoga really does appear to be an approach that is feasible to administer, acceptable to women and their healthcare providers, and potentially helpful to improve mood,” said Battle. “We found what we think are very encouraging results.”

Importantly, this pilot study was not a blinded randomized controlled trial, which would provide stronger, more rigorous evidence, Battle said. She and second author Lisa Uebelacker have since led a small randomized controlled trial with similarly positive results that are now being written up for publication. They are seeking funding for a larger research study with investigators from Brown, Butler, Women & Infants, and Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket in order to gather more definitive evidence.

In the newly published pilot study, they worked with Rhode Island obstetricians and midwives to recruit 34 pregnant women with elevated depression symptoms. Women attended a program of prenatal yoga classes tailored for pregnant women by registered yoga instructors. Co-author Kaeli Sutton, for example, is a yoga expert who specializes in working with pregnant and postpartum women.

At regular timepoints during the 10-week study, the researchers measured depressive symptoms in the women, participation in yoga classes, home yoga practice and changes in mindfulness, again using a standardized questionnaire.

Only four women engaged in any other treatment for depression. The prenatal yoga program did not include any type of counselling or psychotherapy specifically to address depression. The study data also showed that the more prenatal yoga pregnant women did, the more they benefitted psychologically. It’s the first study showing a proportional association.

The researchers also measured significant changes in some attributes of mindfulness, which many researchers believe is one mechanism by which yoga may reduce depression. Mindfulness involves directing one’s attention to the present moment, noticing thoughts, feelings, or sensations, and avoiding judgment of those experiences.

© Brown University News

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