Study: Prenatal Yoga May Reduce Anxiety and Depression during Pregnancy

One in ten women in the West develop mental health complaints during pregnancy, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. Now a new study suggests that prenatal yoga may be useful for reducing women’s anxiety toward childbirth and preventing increase in depressive symptoms.

Published in Depression & Anxiety, the official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the study included 59 low-risk pregnant women who were randomly assigned to either an eight-week yoga course or normal treatment. The women completed questionnaires assessing pregnancy-specific depression and anxiety before starting the yoga course, and those randomly assigned to the yoga group also completed anxiety and stress hormone assessments at their first and last yoga session.

One session of yoga, the researchers found, was enough to reduce anxiety both on subjective and physiological measures, and that reduction in anxiety remained at the final session of the 8-week yoga program.

Although women should consult their doctor before starting an exercise program while pregnant, Dr. Alex Larson, OB-GYN at the Ogden Clinic Women’s Center, says he recommends prenatal exercise because of the physical health benefits during and after pregnancy.

“From what I know about yoga, there is a lot of flexibly and core strength involved, and that really helps with the recovery,” Larson said in an article in the Standard Examiner. “If you go into a delivery in good shape, you come out with less pain and a quicker recovery… It does make a difference.” 

According to Larson, physical discomfort can contribute to the anxiety and depression many women experience feel during pregnancy. Strengthening the muscles in the pelvic area may alleviate discomfort for some women. 

“If all the muscles in your core are in good tone, as it were, theoretically, you have less pain and less discomfort during pregnancy,” he said. 

An earlier study published in 2008 Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice looked at the effects of prenatal yoga on maternal comfort, labor pain, and birth outcomes. The study followed 74 pregnant women, half of whom were randomly assigned to a prenatal yoga program.

The women practicing yoga during pregnancy, the study found, had higher levels of comfort during labor and the 2 hours post-labor, and reported less labor pain than the control group. The women in the prenatal yoga group also had a shorter duration of the first stage of labor, as well as the total time of labor, the study found.

While more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions, the study findings suggest that “30 minutes of yoga practice at least three times per week for 10 weeks is an effective complementary means for facilitating maternal comfort, decreasing pain during labor and 2 hour post delivery, and shortening the length of labor,” the researchers wrote.

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