Mindfulness is helping pregnant women with histories of major depression to protect against a recurrence.
Practising meditation, breathing exercises and yoga almost halved the rate of relapse in women who struggled with depression in previous pregnancies.
About 30pc of these women are likely to relapse but with the mindfulness programme that rate was cut to 18pc.
“It’s important for pregnant women who are at high risk of depression to have options for treatment and prevention,” said Sona Dimidjian, an associate professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and lead author of the study.
“For some women, antidepressant medication is truly a lifesaver, but others want a non-pharmacological intervention.
“This program focuses on teaching women skills and practices that are designed to help them stay well and care for themselves and their babies during this important time of life.”
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy–which combines mindfulness practice with more traditional cognitive behavioral therapy–has been shown to be effective at preventing recurrent episodes of depression in the general population.
But few studies of any kind have looked at the effect of mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapies among pregnant women.
The study at the University of Colorado Boulder looled at 49 women with at least one prior episode of major depression.
They enrolled in an eight-session class during their pregnancies to develop mindfulness skills.
“Mindfulness is about how to pay attention to your own moment-to-moment experience in a way that is suffused with an openness, curiosity, gentleness and kindness towards oneself,” Dimidjian said.
Lessons also included prenatal yoga, walking meditation exercises that could be done later while soothing a baby, and shorter practices that could be easily integrated into the busy lives of new moms.
The lessons also specifically addressed worry, which can be common during pregnancy, and put particular focus on kindness for oneself and one’s baby.
The research team surveyed the women for symptoms of depression during their pregnancy and through six months postpartum.
A high percentage of the women who began the courses–86 percent–completed the study, a sign that the women found the sessions valuable, Dimidjian said.
Dimidjian has worked to create an online programme of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy which she is trialing with both pregnant and non pregnant women.
The study is published in Archives of Women’s Mental Health.