Acupuncture Relieves Depression during Pregnancy


Pregnancy is a joyful time for many women, but up to 20 percent experience symptoms of depression, with one in ten pregnant women having symptoms of major depression. Given the potential dangers associated with taking antidepressants during pregnancy, an effective non-drug approach such as acupuncture is welcome.

Depression during pregnancy, also referred to as antepartum depression, is a mood disorder just like clinical depression outside of pregnancy. Mood disorders involve changes in brain chemistry, and pregnancy certainly is a time during which hormones fluctuate significantly. The American Pregnancy Association notes that depression during pregnancy frequently is not diagnosed properly because people assume it is just another type of hormonal imbalance.

The results of a study presented on February 4 at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting reveal that pregnant women who received acupuncture treatment for depression experienced a significantly greater decrease in the severity of their depression than women in control groups.


Overall, 150 pregnant women who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder were randomized to receive either acupuncture specific for depression (52 women), control acupuncture (49), or massage (49). All women received 12 sessions of treatment over the eight-week, evaluator-blinded trial.

Women in the depression-specific acupuncture group had a higher response rate (63%) than women in the combined control groups (44.3%) or in the control acupuncture group alone (37.5%). Mild, temporary side effects were reported by 43 women, with significantly fewer participants having side effects in the massage group than in either acupuncture group.

Acupuncture is also used to treat other health challenges during pregnancy. A just-released study in the Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences reports that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for low back and pelvic pain in pregnant women. Another study showed promise for the use of acupuncture to induce labor, and there is some indication that it may relieve morning sickness (nausea). Another study suggests that acupuncture may reduce the cesarean births.

Because the use of antidepressants during pregnancy poses dangers to the developing fetus, it is important for pregnant women who suffer with depression to have a non-drug option for relief of their symptoms. The authors of the current study believe that acupuncture could be such an option for treatment of depression during pregnancy.

American Pregnancy Association
Ekdahl L, Petersson K. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences 2010 Jan. 20
Lim CE et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2009 Nov; 15(11): 1209-14
Smith CA, Cochrane S. Birth 2009 Sep; 36(3): 246-53
Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine