After conducting a small pilot study, researchers have found evidence suggesting that yoga could be helpful to pregnant women with depression and help to reduce the severity of the mood disorder; as women who experience depression during their pregnancy are often reluctant to use medications or seek out individual psychotherapy. Dr. Cynthia Battle came across this issue during prior research and asked pregnant women what other treatments they might find appealing, some mentioned yoga.
“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 Battle, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior 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 March-April issue of 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,” Battle said. “We found what we think are very encouraging results.”
The researchers 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. In addition to practicing yoga and mindfulness during the classes, women were also encouraged to do so at home.
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 counseling or psychotherapy specifically to address depression..
Though there was no control group to compare against, the study provides signs that prenatal yoga could be helpful, the study data also showed that the more prenatal yoga pregnant women did, the more they benefitted psychologically.
“This is not the definitive study where we can say that this is an efficacious frontline treatment, however it is a study suggesting that we know enough now to warrant the next, larger study,” she said. “This is an important first step in trying to understand if this is a potentially viable treatment approach.”
Women should consult a healthcare provider before pursuing any remedy for depression, the researchers noted.