There’s a lot to process when you’re pregnant, and sometimes it can seem to be too much — but acupuncture can be an effective way to reduce depression during pregnancy.
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. Other symptoms of depression include loss of focus, fatigue, changes in eating habits and excessive sleeping, feelings of worthlessness, among many others.
There are a large number of causes for depression, including genetics, chemical imbalances, hormone issues and other medical conditions. 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. The symptoms cause significant distress or impair social, occupational, or other important functions. Depression, if left untreated, can pose serious risks to both the mother and her baby. The mom-to-be could stop taking care of herself or her fetus, and potentially even engage in self-destructive behavior. Studies have also linked depression during pregnancy to poor birth outcomes and postpartum depression.
According to a 2007 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology study (funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality) researchers recruited 150 women whose pregnancies were between 12 and 30 weeks gestation and who met the criteria for major depressive disorder. A considerably large amount, 94 percent of the depressed women involved in the study expressed reluctance to take antidepressants, due to safety concerns. 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 Stanford 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 percent or greater reduction in symptoms) was 63 percent for the women receiving depression-specific acupuncture, compared with 44 percent for the women in the other two treatment groups combined.
“If you look at the response rates we got in our study and compare to response rates in studies using antidepressants, you see pretty comparable effectiveness,” says study author Rachel Manber, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. Study researcher Deirdre Lyell, MD, (assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford) says 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 fetus, and someday, her child.”
Side Note: Depression may also be the result of a “dysregulation” of the seven emotions — joy, anger, worry, contemplation, grief, fear and shock. If acupuncture is able to reestablish a balance among these emotions, the symptoms of depression are relieved. Treating depression with acupuncture has a positive and holistic effect on depressed patients, and avoids the potential side effects of traditional medication. Happy and healthy Moms, babies, families!
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