“I thought I’d never be able to love her. I had dreams in which I imagined I’d be able to give her away, then would wake with a horrible sinking feeling that I couldn’t. We’d planned a third child, and I should have been happy. What kind of mother feels that way about her unborn baby? What was wrong with me?” – Emma
Many women experience depression including pregnant women. Depression is characterized by A low or sad mood, loss of interest in fun activities, changes in eating, sleep, and energy, problems in thinking, concentrating, and making decisions, feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt, and thoughts that life is not worth living. It is difficult to deal with under the best of conditions but in combinations with the stresses of pregnancy can turn what could be a joyous experience of creating a human life into a horrible torment.
Depression occurring after delivery of a baby is well known, documented and discussed. Less well known but equally likely is depression during pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest that between 14 and 23 percent of women suffer from some form of depression during pregnancy. Without treatment, prenatal depression can pose a serious threat to a mother-to-be, who may stop taking care of herself or, in extreme cases, become suicidal. This can cause a woman to want to terminate her pregnancy. There are no statistics on the matter but it has been speculated that prenatal depression can lead to abortion.
Prenatal depression is often not recognized or diagnosed. When it is, the typical treatment is antidepressant drugs. But these drugs are often ineffective and frequently have troublesome side effects and may not be safe during pregnancy. So, alternative treatments are needed. Yoga practice has been shown to help relieve depression during pregnancy (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/22/practice-yoga-to-relieve-anxiety-and-depression-during-pregnancy/). This is encouraging as yoga has many benefits including improvement of physical and mental health and if practiced properly is completely safe, even during pregnancy.
There are many types of yoga practice and little is known of what forms are effective and which are not. They can be roughly separated into those that are purely physical and those that are integrated. Physical-exercise-based yoga include exercises, such as stretching and other yoga postures. Integrated yoga, on the other hand also includes meditation or deep relaxation. In today’s Research News article “Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”
Gong and colleagues review and summarize the literature on the effectiveness of physical-exercise-based yoga and integrated yoga on prenatal depression. Overall, yoga practice was found to be effective for prenatal depression. But, interestingly, they found that only with the integrated yoga practice was depression significantly reduced.
This is an important finding. Since integrated yoga is a combination of exercise-based yoga with meditation or deep relaxation and exercise-based yoga alone did not significantly reduce depression, these results suggest that the meditation or deep relaxation is critical for the anti-depressive effects. Mindfulness practices alone are known to be effective for depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/how-do-mindfulness-based-interventions-improve-mental-health/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/15/spiraling-up-with-mindfulness/). So, it is possible that the effectiveness of yoga for prenatal depression is due to its mindfulness components. But future work will be required to determine whether it is the mindfulness components alone or the combination of exercise with mindfulness is important for the anti-depressive effects.
Regardless, it is clear that integrated yoga is a safe and effective treatment for prenatal depression. So, relieve prenatal depression with integrated yoga.
“prenatal depression is hard to talk about or diagnose. Pregnancy symptoms can mimic depression signs, so it can be difficult to tell what’s really going on. Plus, everyone expects pregnant women to be blissfully happy, right? Just so overjoyed at the miracle of it all, too filled with excited anticipation to feel such humanly concerns as fear or discontentment.” – Linda Sharps
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies