Sitting Down in Pregnancy Linked to Depression

There's something you do every single day that could put you at risk for depression and more—but there's a lifestyle change you can make that will help.


We all do it—in fact, you're probably doing it right now as you read this. Yup, sitting down: it's not as innocuous as it seems, and not least in pregnancy.

Between celebrity postpartum admissions and warnings from your doctor, it's no secret that pregnancy hormones can make women susceptible to depression. But according to a recent study, led by Nithya Sukumar, M.D., clinical research fellow, metabolic and vascular health, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, women who suffer from depression in pregnancy are more likely to sit for long periods during their second trimesters, and it's putting their health at risk.

Of course, it's not just depressed women who risk complications from staying seated; we're all guilty of lounging from time to time. "Pregnant women [in general] could benefit from early intervention to improve their physical and mental health to reduce the risks associated with sedentary behavior," Dr. Sukumar said in a news release.

Sitting down and weight gain

Not surprisingly, Dr. Sukumar and her team also found a link between sitting too much and weight gain. Excessive sitting may even lead to gestational diabetes, which can increase the risk of complications for both mother and baby.

"Encouraging women to take breaks from sitting down might be an easier public health policy to implement than increasing their physical activity during pregnancy. We believe reducing sitting time has the potential to reduce pregnant women's risk of gestational diabetes and reduce the metabolic risk factors of newborns," said Ponnusamy Saravanan, M.D., who also contributed to the study, in a release.

How much sitting is too much?

Tanya Sorensen, M.D., a maternal field medicine physician at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, has researched the link between physical activity during pregnancy and gestational diabetes and hypertension. "This [study] is actually really not surprising to me," she told Fit Pregnancy. "I found it really interesting that [the study] linked in the depression part of [the problem] because it makes a lot of sense."

Dr. Sorensen added that physical activity is crucial for pregnant women: "Women who have desk jobs can get up and move around during the day, whether it's walking or swimming or the treadmill or even stairs. That probably helps ameliorate the amount of sitting they do." Dr. Sorensen added that asking for a standing desk might be a good idea for women during their second trimesters—though it's not entirely necessary.

"To be honest with you, most women have to get up to go to the bathroom [often] if they're pregnant," Dr. Sorensen added. "I would suggest taking a midmorning break and an afternoon break in addition to your lunch hour."

Dr. Sorensen also added that varicose veins and blood clots are other dangers associated with excessive sitting while pregnant. However, she also pointed out that the link between depression and excessive sitting might not be that clear-cut. "It could be that if you're very sedentary and not exercising, you're not getting the endorphins. Most people feel better after exercise. But it also could be that you're depressed already and then you just have energy to move. It's hard to say what's cause and what's effect."