Several recent studies and two surveys of the research literature on the benefits of yoga during pregnancy all point to the same conclusion—that moms-to-be fare better, as do their newborns, when they practice yoga, especially if they are battling depression.
Because of the potential side effects on their babies of antidepressant pharmaceuticals during pregnancy, women are more likely to agree to nontraditional, non-drug methods to treat their depression. A recent study, conducted at the University of Michigan, found that mindfulness yoga reduced depression symptoms in pregnant women. By mindfulness, the authors mean yoga practice where body awareness and breath are emphasized over a more athletic style of hatha yoga.
In the study, women who had displayed signs of depression between 12 and 26 weeks pregnant participated in a 90-minute mindfulness yoga session for a total of 10 weeks. Women who participated in the program reported a significant decrease in their depressive symptoms. They also reported a stronger attachment to the babies they were carrying.
A study done in Korea with 46 pregnant women who had in vitro fertilization reported similar results.
Another recent article reviews several studies of yoga during pregnancy and found that, although strict randomized controls (RCTs) were missing in a number of the studies, the nonrandomized trials indicated a significant reduction in rates of preterm labor, intrauterine growth retardation, low birth weight, pregnancy discomforts, and perceived sleep disturbances in those who practiced yoga during pregnancy. Results of the three randomized control trials the researchers looked at indicated that practicing yoga during pregnancy can significantly lower pain and discomfort and perceived stress, as well as improving quality of life.
Another study looked at the research done on prenatal exercise in general and found that yoga in particular, as compared to walking, lowered heart rate and blood pressure more than walking. The researchers also report that complications like pregnancy-induced hypertension with associated intrauterine growth retardation and prematurity are less frequent following yoga.
Now that so many small pilot studies have indicated yoga’s benefits for pregnant women, larger, better funded randomized controlled trials are under way, including one on-going at Butler Hospital and Brown University, under the direction of Lisa Uebelacker, PhD. She and her colleagues are in the second year of a four-year NIH funded RCT study, for which I am a consultant. This study is looking at yoga and its effect on non-pregnant people suffering from depression. According to Uebelacker, the results won’t be analyzed until the completion of the study, but retention rates in the yoga group are quite high, which is a good sign!
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Babbar S, Parks-Savage AC, Chauhan SP. Yoga during pregnancy: a review, Am J Perinatol. 2012 Jun;29(6):459-64. Epub 2012 Mar 7.
Mindfulness yoga during pregnancy for psychiatrically at-risk women: Preliminary results from a pilot feasibility study, Muzik. M, and colleagues, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice Epub 2012, July 14
J Korean Acad Nurs. 2012 Jun;42(3):369-76. doi: 10.4040/jkan.2012.42.3.369. Effects of a Yoga-focused Prenatal Program on Stress, Anxiety, Self Confidence and Labor Pain in Pregnant Women with In Vitro Fertilization Treatment.
J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2012 Apr;16(2):204-9. Epub 2011 Sep 23.Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity.
Infant Behav Dev. 2012 Jun;35(3):397-407. Epub 2012 Jun 19. Prenatal exercise research. Field T., and colleagues.
Uebelacker, Lisa. Personal communication, 8/8/2012