Anne Foy  – Freelance contributor

Impending motherhood is usually described as one of the most joyful moments in a woman’s life, yet evidence suggests that up to 26 per cent of pregnant women suffer from depression in pregnancy. 20-49% of healthy women experience symptoms of depression or anxiety during pregnancy. In general, greater rates of depression and anxiety in those who are expecting is linked to a number of factors:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Social factors surrounding the pregnancy-single mothers, relationship issues
  • Stress from work, finances, family-life
  • Physical changes and discomfort can be debilitating to some pregnant moms.

For some soon-to-be moms, a feeling of being overwhelmed by stress and irritability can be a tough hurdle to overcome. The reported numbers are pretty high, but they may actually be higher than reported.

Depression during pregnancy can be misdiagnosed or even ignored. Many of the symptoms of depression are similar to common physical and physiological complaints encountered in pregnancy. Numerous studies carried out over the past few years, however, show that prenatal yoga has a powerful influence in helping pregnant women deal with and eliminate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

 Depression and Pregnancy: Affects Mother and Child

 Depression during pregnancy is considered a severe risk factor for premature birth-the number one cause of infant mortality. Pregnancy depression can even affect the relationship between mother and child. A mother who is depressed may not respond to her child or empathize with or even feel love.  She may blame the child for her depression. When mothers don’t respond eventually the child will pay the consequences.

 Additional effects of this type of depression as far as the child is concerned include behavioral issues, irregular sleep patterns, greater aggression in the child’s teen years, and developmental delays. For all these reasons, over the past two decades, researchers have expressed a growing interest in so-called ‘alternative’ or holistic therapies, to find new ways to prevent and deal with stress, anxiety, and depression in the most natural way possible. Taking medication for depression has too many risks for a developing fetus.

Natural Remedies For Depression:

  •  Massage (using moderate pressure) is successful at decreasing prenatal depression and premature delivery
  • Yoga has been shown to be effective in reducing depression in many different types of groups:
    • Elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
    • Women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer
    • War veterans facing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
    • One recent study, however, shows that yoga also has an important part to play in keeping prenatal depression at bay.

 The Study: ‘Yoga Reduces Prenatal Depression Symptoms’

The study, published in the journal, Psychology, was of clinically depressed pregnant women randomly assigned to either a yoga group or a parenting preparation class. Those who practiced yoga took part in yoga sessions twice a week for a period of 12 weeks, while the control group sat for 12 parenting classes for the same amount of time. The results showed the yoga practitioners had significant decreases in symptoms of depression (symptoms were measured via the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale).

 Why Yoga?

Research shows yoga is successful at battling:

  • High cortisol (stress hormone) levels
  • Panic,
  • Anxiety
  • Intense feelings of sadness

How Does It Work?

  • Pranayama is controlling the breath using specific techniques that have a physiological affect on the body-deep breathing cause the production of endorphins-feel good hormones.
  • Vinyasa which is the coordination between breath and movement not only as a weight bearing exercise but also cardiovascular.
  • Specific physical poses or “asana”, challenge the union of breath, body, and mind.
  • Learning about being in the moment-the ‘here and now’ aspect of meditation. Meditation can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels.
  • Another benefit of yoga is compassion and empathy for one’s self. Removing the element of competition and focusing on what one’s body is able to do day by day. Our bodies change on a daily basis and in yoga you learn to accept what is today, and let go of what isn’t. That is why it is called “Yoga Practice” not “Yoga Perfect”.

 Complementary Activities

In addition to yoga, additional activities which are safe and free of negative side-effects:

  • Tai Chi (which was found to reduce depression in a group of 99 women in a study published in 2013)
  • Massage
  • The combination of yoga and massage have also been linked to lower rates or prematurity and to higher birth weights for babies born to mothers with depression.

Get Started Today: 

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J Mitchell, Yoga Reduces Prenatal Depression Symptoms. Scientific Research. 2012. DOI:10.4236

U Frisch, Depression During Pregnancy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2010.(67):571-75.

S Pawlby, Antenatal depression and offspring psychopathology: the influence of childhood maltreatment. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2011. DOI:10.1192

A Ross, The Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise: A Review of Comparison Studies. Journal of, 5 Tips for Improving Self-Compassion, accessed November, 2014.

Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 2010.(16):3., Yoga in 10: Basic Flow, accessed November, 2014., Exercise and Transformation, accessed November, 2014.