Can Acupuncture Cure Pregnancy-Related Depression?

Pregnancy is normally a time of joy and anticipation. For women who suffer from depression, it can also create confusion and concern about how antidepressant medications might affect their baby's health. Fortunately, acupuncture may be a good alternative for treating pregnancy-related depression.

About 10 percent of pregnant women are clinically depressed and of these 20 percent worsen during pregnancy. Although antidepressant use is on the rise, most women are reluctant to take medication during pregnancy, especially after studies found that some antidepressants were linked to small, but significant, health risks to unborn babies.

Managing major depression during pregnancy is complex. One on hand, antidepressants have the potential to cause adverse neonatal outcomes, such as pre-term deliveries. On the other hand, exposure to mental illness also has negative short- and long-term effects on mother and baby, including poor prenatal care, medical and obstetrical complications, self-medication, substance abuse, impaired bonding, and suicide. Women with a history of major depression are at high risk for relapse during pregnancy, and women who discontinue antidepressants are five times more likely to suffer a relapse.

Psychotherapy, light therapy, and Complementary or Alternative Medicine (CAM), such as acupuncture, herbs, and lifestyle modifications, are among the other options for treating depression.

Acupuncture for Pregnancy-Related Depression

Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. Acupuncture is becoming increasingly widespread in the United States as more people seek non-medical alternatives to stay healthy and treat health problems. In 2006, more than three million adults received acupuncture, and depression is one of the top 10 reasons for treatment.

During the procedure, a professional trained in Chinese medicine inserts hair-thin needles into points along pathways, or meridians, through which energy flows. The objective of acupuncture is to influence the flow of energy, Qi (or Chi). Acupuncture has few side effects when performed by a trained, licensed acupuncturist. It doesn't interfere with other treatments, and it's safe and effective for treating depression and other mental health problems.

Although the sample size was small, a recent study showed that acupuncture might also be successful in treating pregnancy-related depression. Physicians caution that it's premature to advise patients to discontinue medication during pregnancy based on the results of this one study. However, acupuncture may be an option for depressed pregnant women who are not taking medication.

If you suffer from depression, ask your physician if acupuncture might be appropriate during your pregnancy.


Larson, Nancy Fowler. "Acupuncture May Successfully Lift Depression in Pregnant Women." Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) 30th Annual Meeting: The Pregnancy Meeting: Abstract 8. Presented February 4, 2010. Medscape Medical News. Web. 9 February 2010.

Harrison, Pam. "Acupuncture Reduces Depressive Symptoms During Pregnancy With Few Adverse Effects." Obstetrics & Gynecology 115 (2010): 511-520. Medscape Medical News. Web. 25 February 2010.

Raudzus, Julia, and Misri, Shaila. "Managing Unipolar Depression in Pregnancy." Current Opinion in Psychiatry 22(1) (2009): 13-18. Medscape Medical News. Web. 7 January 2009.

Weier, Kira M., CNM, and Beal, Margaret W. CNM, Ph.D. "Complementary Therapies as Adjuncts in the Treatment of Postpartum Depression. "Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health 49(2) (2004). Medscape Medical News. Web. 5 April 2004.

Focus on Research and Care. National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Web. February 2010.

National Institutes of Health, National Centers for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Acupuncture: An Introduction." Web. December 2007.

Cassels, Caroline. "Small but Significant Risk for Heart Defects Linked to SSRI Use During Pregnancy." BMJ.  Web. 25 September 2009.