Acupuncture may help lessen depression symptoms during pregnancy, a new Stanford University School of Medicine study shows.
The study authors, led by Rachel Manber, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, said they hope the results will raise awareness of the problem of depression during pregnancy and provide patients and physicians an alternative to antidepressants. “This standardized acupuncture protocol could be a viable treatment option for depression during pregnancy,” they wrote in a paper that will appear in the March issue of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
Up to 14 percent of pregnant women may have major depressive disorder, a condition characterized by feelings of dread, gloom and hopelessness, and a loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities. Some women suffer from depression before becoming pregnant, stop taking their medication and then experience a relapse; in other women, pregnancy itself may cause depression.
“Pregnancy just by its nature can bring out some underlying psychiatric and emotional issues,” said co-author Deirdre Lyell, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology.
Depression, if left untreated, can pose risks to both mother and baby. “Treatment of depression during pregnancy is critically important so that a woman can maintain her sense of well-being and take good care of herself, her foetus and, someday, her child,” said Lyell.
To reach the conclusion, researchers recruited 150 women whose pregnancies were between 12 and 30 weeks gestation and who met the criteria for major depressive disorder. The women were randomized to receive one of three treatments: acupuncture specific for depression; control acupuncture, during which needles were inserted in points not known to help alleviate depressive symptoms; or massage. All of the women received eight weeks of therapy and were assessed for depression at the four- and eight-week marks by an interviewer who was unaware of the treatment each woman received.
The researchers found that women who received the depression-specific acupuncture experienced a bigger reduction in depression symptoms than the women in the other groups. The response rate - defined as having a 50 per cent or greater reduction in symptoms - was 63 per cent for the women receiving depression-specific acupuncture, compared with 44 per cent for the women in the other two treatment groups combined.