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Mother holding baby's feet

Starting a family is certainly an exciting and joyful prospect. However, the physical changes that women go through during and after the birth of a child can impact their mental health. Even if the pregnancy was carefully planned and the nine months prior to the birth were completely uneventful, many women experience depression during and after pregnancy. The “baby blues” and postpartum depression, or PPD, share many of the same symptoms. The online journal, Mental Health America, notes that women between the ages of 25 to 45 are the most at risk for PPD. Fluctuations in hormonal levels, fatigue and physical changes and discomfort following childbirth are quite common. However, PPD is viewed as a serious mental health problem because it can begin any time after delivery and last for as long as a year, while the baby blues typically disappear after two weeks.

A new study conducted by University of Colorado-Boulder researchers shows that, “pregnant and postpartum women at risk of depression are less likely to suffer depression when they meditate or get in a yoga pose than when they are treated with psychotherapy or antidepressants.” In the study, women who were at risk for PPD were shown to respond favorably when they were treated with mindfulness techniques, which are major components within the practices of meditation and yoga.

The ramifications of this study are extremely significant because it was the first of its kind to examine cognitive therapy based on mindfulness that was solely targeted on women during their pregnancies. Sona Dimidjianan, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU-Boulder, led the study. It is groundbreaking because before the benefits of mindfulness training were brought to light, the preferred treatment plans for PPD were antidepressant drugs and psychological counseling. When they are taught mindfulness techniques prior to giving birth, women at risk for PPD can be in much better control of their mental health. As Dimidjian explained, “We know that women are going to have contact with the healthcare system because they are pregnant, and now we have a good indication that there is a promising intervention that will help many women reduce their risk of depression.”

The CU-Boulder research team for the study chose eighty-six participants with histories of depression because that placed them at a higher risk for PPD. Next, 43 of the women were randomly assigned to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The other group of 43 was given more conventional treatment.

The group treated with mindfulness-based therapy went to eight sessions of treatment. In that time frame they learned meditation, yoga and strategies focused on helping them react differently to negative thoughts. Each week, the participants were also given activities for home practice.

For decades, a major flaw with conventional treatment for PPD has been that most pregnant women do not want to take prescription antidepressants during or after pregnancy. As for counseling, for many there is still quite a stigma attached to visiting the office of a mental health professional. It does not help that a number of pregnant women are self-conscious about their physical appearance, which can make them even more reluctant to seek counseling. However, it can not be ignored that there is a considerable population of women in the child-bearing years that are in fact at great risk for developing PPD. The Mental Health Journal reports that within the population of at risk females, “Studies have suggested that while 7 percent of pregnant women use antidepressants, up to 50 percent of them stop taking the drugs during pregnancy and, of those, 70 percent relapse into depression.”

In an effort to reach a greater number of pregnant females at risk for PPD, Dimidjian is now considering the effectiveness establishing web-based treatment sessions.

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