New York Times Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin reports on a study newly published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology finding that acupuncture has the potential to treat depression in pregnancy, also known as antenatal depression or antepartum depression.

“Researchers at Stanford University tested alternative treatments and antidepressants for pregnant women, and found that acupuncture designed specifically to treat depression is a potential substitute. Sixty-three percent of women who received that treatment responded well, compared with only 44 percent who received massage therapy or acupuncture that was not specifically targeted for depression. The study did not compare any of these treatments with either antidepressants or psychotherapy.”

A news release from Stanford University, where the study was conducted, points out:

“Depression, if left untreated, can pose risks to both mother and baby. The mom-to-be could stop taking care of herself or her fetus, and might even engage in self-destructive behavior. Studies have also linked depression during pregnancy to poor birth outcomes and postpartum depression. ‘Treatment of depression during pregnancy is critically important so that a woman can maintain her sense of well-being and take good care of herself, her fetus and, someday, her child,’ said [study co-author Deirdre] Lyell.”

Very true. I’m excited to see this alternative treatment has potential.

I wonder how a mom-to-be would find an acupuncturist who is well-trained in working with pregnant women and in doing acupuncture targeted for depression?

Lisa Belkin also makes the point that, given that low-income women are at a higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression, “What are the odds that a pregnant woman who does not see a doctor is going to get diagnosed and treated for depression, and with acupuncture no less?”

Maybe someday.

Here’s a direct link to the study abstract. And here is the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health weighing in on the study.

Update: And for an opposing view of this study’s results, read “Is Acupunture Valuable in Treating Depression?” from Better Health:

“Therefore we have a small and improperly blinded and randomized study showing a modest clinical effect. This does not significantly alter the low prior probability of a treatment effect from needle placement.

This study should also be considered in the context of other trials looking at acupuncture and depression. This very recent Cochrane review concluded:

We found insufficient evidence to recommend the use of acupuncture for people with depression. The results are limited by the high risk of bias in the majority of trials meeting inclusion criteria.”

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