As many as one in five women will suffer with symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Difficult life situations (even major life changes that are supposed to be happy, for example pregnancy) can lead to increased depression and anxiety. Add to this the hormonal changes of pregnancy, which can lead to shifts in brain chemistry that affect mood, and it’s the perfect storm for problems with depressive symptoms. Women and their families are often caught off-guard ” this is supposed to be such an exciting, happy time, why would you feel so sad?
Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy
Women with a history of depression are more at risk, but depression can happen to anyone in pregnancy. The symptoms are the same as those outside of pregnancy:
- persistent sadness
- difficulty concentrating
- changes in eating or sleeping
- increased anxiety
- feelings of hopelessness
- loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
Women are at an increased risk of depression during pregnancy if they have a history of depression, abuse or trauma; if they have suffered a past pregnancy loss or infertility; or if they have complications in this pregnancy. Relationship problems ” whether with their partner or others ” can put a woman at risk for depression, as well as major life changes such as moving to a new home or changing jobs.
How Do You Treat Depression During Pregnancy?
Treatments for depression ” in and outside of pregnancy – include psychotherapy, support groups, light therapy, and medications. Because of the potential risks of medications during pregnancy, women often look for other treatments first. Enter yoga ” a treatment without dangerous side effects that may help pregnant women suffering from depression.
In non-pregnant women, yoga has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression. Javnbakht and colleagues (2009) studied a group of women who were all referred to a yoga clinic ” about half of whom participated at the time of the study, with the remaining women on a waiting list for the class. Anxiety and depression in both groups were measured at the beginning of the study, with one group then participating in two months of regular yoga practice. At the end of the study period, both groups were assessed again. While the anxiety and depression scores of the waiting list group were nearly the same as they were at the start, the yoga group showed marked improvement in both anxiety and depression scores. Researchers believe the results are not only the effect of exercise itself, but specifically that yoga teaches body awareness and body control, as well as meditative relaxation.
These positive results carry over into the pregnant population as well. In one study of women who participated in a 7-week program that combined yoga, mindfulness instruction and relaxation techniques, participants experienced reduced stress and anxiety when they started the program in the third trimester. Those who started the program in the second trimester had reduced pregnancy-related pain as they approached their due dates. This study, however, had a small sample size and did not measure how much yoga was practiced outside of the classes. Another small study found that women with depressive symptoms or a history of depression who participated in mindfulness yoga had decreased depressive symptoms and increased mindfulness as pregnancy progressed. The researchers believe the ‘mindfulness’ portion was maybe more important than the actual yoga poses.
So, What Exactly is “Mindfulness” Yoga?
Mindfulness is bringing your attention to the present moment, without any judgment or reaction. Staying in the moment allows you to experience sensations without trying to change them, accepting them without thinking about whether they’re good or bad. While this is part of Buddhist meditation teaching, it can become part of any relaxation program. When combined with specific body poses, it becomes mindfulness yoga. When we begin to pay attention to our bodily reactions in yoga, we can start to pay attention to psychological reactions at other times throughout the day. Mindfulness during pregnancy allows you to feel connected with your growing baby and changing body in a positive way, which may help to alleviate symptoms of depression.
Yoga itself may help prevent preterm birth and low birth weight, as well as pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pregnancy induced hypertension (Rakhshani, et al). Yoga can decrease stress, improve flexibility and body confidence, and may even help you prepare for birth. More research is needed in this area; but, because of the lack of side effects, yoga and mindfulness training may be a good first strategy for treating depression in pregnant women.
If you’d like to try yoga, find a class taught by someone trained to teach pregnant women. Be sure to take normal exercise precautions ” stay hydrated, start a new exercise regimen slowly, and don’t overexert yourself. You may need to adjust some of the poses to be more appropriate for the pregnant body. Because your body is producing hormones that loosen ligaments, be cautious with changes in position and stretching. Your center of gravity is changed during pregnancy, too, so your balance may be off. Learning yoga can help you manage this change. Learn more about prenatal yoga here.
During pregnancy, any type of exercise will keep you feeling your best. Healthcare providers recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days to reap the greatest benefits. If you are suffering from depression during pregnancy, exercise can be an important adjunct to other treatments. Yoga is a low-cost, non-invasive exercise that can be effectively used for preventing pregnancy complications, and for treating depression during pregnancy with no negative side-effects. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any exercise routine, and ask specifically if yoga might be appropriate for you.
Remember, Many Things Can Contribute To Feelings of Anxiety and Depression
BellyBelly has compiled a list of 8 other things you can do during pregnancy (and postnatally) to help prevent postnatal anxiety and depression here.
If you’d like to find a pregnancy yoga class, try BellyBelly’s directory here.
Highly recommended books include:
- The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness
- The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy
- Mindful Motherhood
- Any books by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is internationally known for his work on mindfulness.
Beddoe, A. E., Paul Yang, C. P., Kennedy, H. P., Weiss, S. J., & Lee, K. A. (2009). The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Yoga During Pregnancy on Maternal Psychological and Physical Distress. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 38(3), 310-319.
Isaacs, N (2008). Bring more mindfulness onto the mat. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/article/practice-section/peace-of-mind/.
Javnbakht, M., Hejazi Kenari, R., & Ghasemi, M. (2009). Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 15(2), 102-104.
Muzik, M., Hamilton, S. E., Lisa Rosenblum, K., Waxler, E., & Hadi, Z. (2012). Mindfulness yoga during pregnancy for psychiatrically at-risk women: Preliminary results from a pilot feasibility study. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 18(4), 235-240.
Rakhshani, A., Nagarathna, R., Mhaskar, R., Mhaskar, A., Thomas, A., & Gunasheela, S. (2012). The effects of yoga in prevention of pregnancy complications in high-risk pregnancies: A randomized controlled trial. Preventive medicine, 55(4), 333-340.