Drug-Free Treatments for Depression During Pregnancy

by Platt Devost

Pregnancy and DepressionBetween 14 and 23 percent of pregnant women in the United States will experience symptoms of depression, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Within low-income, urban moms, the numbers could be much higher.

Even if you felt cheerful enough to joke about it, depression during pregnancy is no laughing matter. It's been linked to low-birth weight, delayed cognitive and emotional development in children.

Major depression during pregnancy has physiological, psychological and behaviorial risks including:

  • Putting the mom at an increased risk for pregnancy complications
  • Increasing the risk of a low birth weight baby
  • Possibly affecting the baby's brain development

Depressed moms are:

  • Less likely to do participate in prenatal care
  • More apt to have substance abuse issues
  • Not as willing to bond with their baby at first
  • At an increased risk of postpartum depression

Recent research has pregnant women wondering if taking medication during pregnancy put their baby's or their own health at risk. Using antidepressants during pregnancy could be tied to smaller fetal head growth and other heath or behaviorial problems in children.

If you're depressed and pregnant or considering having a baby, what are your options? Both depression and use of antidepressants during pregnancy have been linked to adverse effects in newborns.

The Mayo Clinic recommends speaking with your doctor to weigh the risks against the benefits of various treatments, including drug therapies. Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, is in the process of conducting a study comparing the effect of depression versus the effect of antidepressants on babies' health.

Seeking treatment for depression isn't a weakness. It doesn't mean that you're failing as an expectant mom, either. Getting help offers the gift of a physically and mentally healthy mom.

If you and your healthcare provider decide that non-medical treatment is the best option, there are many choices. Here are some of the most common and promising remedies, therapies and treatments.

Natural Remedies

Could changing your diet, making exercise a regular part of your day or going to bed earlier ease your depression? Many moms-to-be claim to feel better after trying this option.

Therapy: Research demonstrates that working with a therapist helps alleviate symptoms of depression. These professionals can provide support and compassion and direct you to other resources.

Even if you don't have a mood disorder, but are at high risk for one, you might want to be proactive and check in every now and then during your pregnancy just for peace of mind.

Exercise: A 30-minute walk every day can work wonders for depression. You'll gain other benefits, too. You'll find keeping your weight gain under control easier and build up your strength and endurance for labor.

Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements: For some women, depression responds to an increase in omega-3's. Avocados, olives, salmon and flax seed contain omega 3's, but it's hard to get enough just from foods during pregnancy.

You might have to take capsules for several weeks to notice an improvement. These fatty acids also decrease your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other diseases. they also provide nutrients your growing baby needs for to build that rapidly developing brain.

Alternative Treatments

Acupuncture: Researchers at Stanford University tested alternative treatments and found that acupuncture specifically designed to treat depression is a potential substitute for antidepressants. Sixty-three percent of women who received that treatment responded well.

Massage: Studies suggest that massage therapy helps manage depression and anxiety. Overall the findings show that massage therapy effectively reduces a pregnant women's stress hormones, stressful mood states, leg and back pain and lessens obstetric and post-natal complications (which improves neonatal outcomes).

Stress relief: Programs to reduce stress include deep relaxation regimens that focus on breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. Other moms combat stress with yoga, aroma therapy, hypnosis or music therapy.

Have you suffered from prenatal depression? What helped you feel better? Were you able to handle your condition drug-free?

Medical references:
- T. Field, Ph.D.; M.A. Diego; M. Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D.; S. Schanberg; and C. Kuhn. (June 2004) "Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine, in Florida." Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 115-122.