The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Because many pregnant women are reluctant to take medication, Maria Muzik, M.D., M.S., a perinatal psychiatrist and researcher in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor says, “If they have mild-to-moderate depression without suicidal tendencies, I steer them toward psychosocial (talk therapy) and alternative treatment options.”
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression—which include persistent sadness, hopelessness, inability to concentrate and irritability—and your doctor agrees that medication might not be your best or only option, there are several drug-free alternatives that could help.
One of the most intriguing emerging alternatives is bright- light therapy, in which a mom-to-be spends one hour each morning in front of a specialized artificial light.
Intense, bright light slows the onset of the evening production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and is believed to help reset your circadian rhythm, which controls everything from sleep-wake cycle to hormonal fluctuations (which is why it’s already a well- established treatment for seasonal depression). This type of therapy might be effective for women who get the blues in the fall or winter, says C. Neill Epperson, M.D., director of the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness at the perelman school of medicine of the University of Pennsylvania in philadelphia. Thirteen out of 16 pregnant, moderately depressed women receiving light therapy for five weeks had an at least 50 percent improvement in symptoms, and four stopped being depressed altogether—all with no side effects, according to a swiss study published in 2011 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Just stepping outside to get some sun will not decrease depression, epperson cautions, because the intensity of the light in winter isn’t strong enough.
Ongoing studies involving more than 100 women in Michigan, Georgia, Colorado and elsewhere are looking into mindfulness-based meditation as a means of alleviating prenatal depression.
The classes blend gentle yoga poses with guided meditation exercises and group discussions to help expectant moms become more in tune with and less judgmental of their thoughts and feelings at any given moment.
In August, Muzik published a pilot study showing that depressed moms who participated in a 10-week mindfulness-based yoga class not only saw their depressive symptoms subside, but also scored higher on tests looking at how connected they felt to their unborn children.