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Acupuncture Improves Pregnancy Depression


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Acupuncture may be a very helpful drug-free alternative for treatment of depression during and after pregnancy. According to the scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine, pregnant women with depression, also known as 'antenatal depression', showed a significant improvement in their symptoms after having acupuncture sessions.

Nearly 14 per cent of future mothers are thought to experience major depressive disorder at some point during their pregnancy, a condition that is characterized by feelings such as fear, gloom and hopelessness, as well as a loss of interest in regular activities. Depression during pregnancy is a risk factor for developing postpartum depression. If left without treatment, depression during pregnancy can pose a great threat to a woman who may stop taking care of herself, stop taking medication, not eat a healthy diet, or become suicidal in some extreme cases.

In addition, this all puts a baby at risk - it can affect the developing brain. In previous studies, postpartum depression was linked to poorer cognitive and emotional development in children. Babies born to women with depression were found to be more irritable, less active and less attentive when compared to other babies. Some studies have found an association between depression in pregnancy and low birth weight.

According to Deirdre Lyell, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and a study's co-author, treatment of antenatal depression is of a great importance so that a woman can maintain her sense of well-being and take good care of herself, her foetus and, someday, her child.

For the study purposes, the investigators recruited 150 clinically depressed pregnant women between twelve and thirty weeks of gestation, who have never taken any antidepressants before. All women were randomly divided into three groups: acupuncture for depression (52 participants), control acupuncture, or acupuncture not specifically designed for depression (49 participants), and massage group (49 participants). The experiments lasted for the period of eight weeks during which the women received treatment twice a week for the first 4 weeks, and after that just once a week for the next 4 weeks. An average time of each treatment was 25 minutes.

The results revealed that after eight weeks, those women who were assigned to receive acupuncture targeting depression showed a significantly greater reduction in depressive symptoms, when compared to women in two other groups. This means that the severity of their symptoms fell by at least 50 per cent and they no longer met all of the criteria for diagnosing major depression. The researchers found a 63 per cent response rate in women who received the depression-specific acupuncture, while the response rate was 37 per cent in the control acupuncture group and 44.3 per cent in the massage group.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy that attempts to treat conditions by stimulating points around the body, most often with the help of painless tiny needles. The needles are being administered to the skin and moved by hand or electrical stimulation. Nobody knows for sure how acupuncture works, but studies show that it has been very effective at treating pain, nausea and mood problems.

Results of the study are scheduled to be published in the March issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology journal.

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