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Yoga in Pregnancy Helps Manage Mood Disorders

Yoga in Pregnancy Helps Manage Mood Disorders

Pregnant women with a history of psychiatric disorders can significantly reduce depressive symptoms by practicing mindfulness yoga, according to a small pilot study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System.1

It is estimated that up to 20% of pregnant women experience major depression during pregnancy, and for women with a history of mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, pregnancy and its related hormonal changes can exacerbate these conditions. Few women, however, receive treatment for mood disorders during pregnancy. Although antidepressants are effective, many pregnant women are concerned about possible adverse effects that such medications may have on their unborn child. Left untreated, symptoms of depression and anxiety in pregnancy have been associated with poor weight gain, preeclampsia, premature labor, and poor maternal-fetal bonding.

Because mindfulness yoga, which combines physical poses with meditative focus, has been shown to decrease stress and increase energy, researchers instituted a 10-week program of mindfulness yoga for 18 women with signs of depression.1 Participants were between 12 and 26 weeks’ gestations and had baseline scores of greater than 9 on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Participants also rated their depression, mindfulness, and maternal-fetal attachment before and after completing the mindfulness yoga program.

Researchers found that symptoms of depression were significantly reduced (P=.025) and mindfulness and maternal-fetal attachment were significantly increased (P=.007 and P=.000, respectively). The researchers also reported that participants seemed to readily accept yoga as an effective alternative for managing mood disorders during pregnancy. This is the first study, according to the study authors, to show that mindfulness yoga may be an alternative to or complementary therapy with pharmacological treatment of mood disorders in pregnant women at high risk for mood disorders.

“We hear about pregnant women trying yoga to reduce stress, but there’s no data on how effective this method is,” said lead author Maria Muzik, MD, MS, assistant professor of psychiatry and assistant research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development. “Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression. This promotes both mother and baby well-being.”

Pertinent Points:
- Mindfulness yoga during pregnancy can decrease symptoms of depression and improve maternal-fetal bonding in women at risk for mood disorders.
- Pregnant women generally are more accepting of nontraditional treatments of psychiatric disorders, such as relaxation techniques and mind-body work, because of concerns for their infants’ safety with regard to in utero exposure to antidepressants.


1. Muzik M, Hamilton SE, Rosenblum KS, et al. Mindfulness yoga during pregnancy for psychiatrically at-risk women: preliminary results from a pilot feasibility study. Complement Ther Clin Practice. 2012;18:In press.
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