A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Labor of Love


Yoga could lessen prenatal depression.

As yoga has surged in popularity, so,too, have studies testing its effects on people suffering from depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other mental disorders. Now Alpert Medical School researchers have found evidence suggesting that the practice may help reduce significant depression in pregnant women.

Lead author Cynthia Battle, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior (research), says depressed pregnant women are often reluctant to use medications and some also have difficulty engaging in individual psychotherapy. “This is really about trying to develop a wider range of options that suit women who are experiencing these kinds of symptoms during pregnancy,” says Battle. “What we don’t want to do is have people fall through the cracks.”

Battle’s study, published in the March-April issue of the journal Women’s Health Issues, is an initial test of whether a 10-week program of prenatal yoga could be feasible, acceptable, safe, and effective for mild to moderately depressed women. “We found what we think are very encouraging results,” she says.

At regular points during the 10-week pilot study, the researchers measured depressive symptoms in the women, participation in yoga classes, home yoga practice, and changes in mindfulness. Of the 34 participants, only four women engaged in any other treatment for depression. The prenatal yoga program did not include any type of counseling or psychotherapy specifically to address depression.

The study was not a blinded, randomized, controlled trial, which would provide stronger, more rigorous evidence, Battle says. She and second author Lisa Uebelacker, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior (research), have since led a small randomized, controlled trial with similarly positive results and are seeking funding for a larger research study, with investigators from Brown and several local hospitals, to gather more definitive evidence.

Though there was no control group to compare against, the pilot study suggests that prenatal yoga could be helpful, Battle says. For example, depressive symptoms declined during the 10-week program on two standardized scales, from levels consistent with moderate or significant depression to well into the mild range.

The data also show that the more prenatal yoga that pregnant women did, the more they benefited psychologically. It’s the first study showing a proportional association.

The results of the pilot study show that a larger trial would be worthwhile, Battle says. “This is not the definitive study where we can say that this is an efficacious frontline treatment; however, it is a study suggesting that we know enough now to warrant the next, larger study,” she says. “This is an important first step in trying to understand if this is a potentially viable treatment approach.”


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