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Perinatal Yoga for Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can limit ability to care for one’s self, limit ability to care for a new baby or developing fetus, and can cause mood swings, impaired concentration, and sleep disturbance. Disorders of depression and anxiety are common in the perinatal period (immediately before and after birth) with depression rates around 20% and perinatal anxiety present in about 10% of women. These mood disorders greatly diminish quality of life for mother and baby. Medication may be effective, however, side effects are often unknown, and potentially adverse for the perinatal patient. Many women worry that using medication to treat these disorders may harm the fetus, negatively affect mother child bonding, and poorly influence child development. As health care providers, being aware of alternative treatments for depression and anxiety is essential. Having alternative treatments can allow our patients to combat these common perinatal problems which will improve quality of life, improve bonding between baby and mother and improve the overall perinatal experience. In the general population, positive mental and physical health benefits have been continually demonstrated by yoga participants in current research. Can yoga be an effective, alternative treatment to help perinatal patients improve mental health and well-being?

A recent 2015 systematic literature review published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing reviewed 13 studies to examine existing empirical literature on yoga interventions and yoga’s effects on pregnant women’s health and well-being. The conclusion of the review found that yoga interventions were generally effective at reducing depression and anxiety in perinatal women and the decrease in depression and anxiety was noted regardless of the type of outcome measure used and results were optimized when the study was 7 weeks or longer. Other positive secondary findings noted with the regular yoga participation in the perinatal participants were: improvements in pain, anger, stress, gestational age at birth, birth weight, maternal-infant attachment, power, optimism, and well-being. What is yoga and what form of it may help battle perinatal depression and anxiety?

"As health care providers we need to have alternative treatments to help our perinatal patients’ battle depression and anxiety"

Yoga by definition is a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the mind and body. Merriam-Webster defines yoga as a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being. All styles of yoga include some combination of physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation-relaxation techniques. Hatha yoga is the most common form completed in the United States and consists modernly of various postures, breathing, and meditation. In the 13 reviewed studies, all interventions consisted of different forms of yoga and the overall conclusion of the systematic review was the decrease in depression and anxiety was significant no matter the form of yoga completed. Physical and emotional issues such as hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, inability to handle new tasks, self-worth, and body issues, during the perinatal period can contribute to increased anxiety and depression. As health care providers we need to have alternative treatments to help our perinatal patients’ battle depression and anxiety. Yoga is a promising alternative to medication to help decrease depression and anxiety. Additionally it may be helpful for management of pain, anger, stress, gestational age at birth, birth weight, maternal-infant attachment, power, optimism, and well-being.

Interested in learning more about how you can apply therapeutic yoga in your practice? Check out "Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy this April in Washington, DC!


Sheffield, K. M., & Woods-Giscombé, C. L. (2015). Efficacy, Feasibility, and Acceptability of Perinatal Yoga on Women’s Mental Health and Well-Being A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 0898010115577976.

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