It is known that pregnancy hormones can dampen moods, but for some mothers-to-be, it's much worse: 1 in 5 experience major depression.
In the study, pregnant women who were identified as psychiatrically high risk and who participated in a 10-week mindfulness yoga intervention saw significant reductions in depressive symptoms.
Mothers-to-be also reported stronger attachment to their babies in the womb.
"We hear about pregnant women trying yoga to reduce stress but there's no data on how effective this method is. Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression" said lead author Maria Muzik, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of psychiatry and assistant research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development.
"This promotes both mother and baby wellbeing," she stated.
Mental health disorders during pregnancy, including depression and anxiety, have become a serious health concern. Hormonal changes, genetic predisposition and social factors set the stage for some expectant moms to experience persistent irritabiity feelings of being overwhelmed and inability to cope with stress.
Untreated, these symptoms bear major health risks for both the mom and baby, including poor weight gain, preeclampsia, premature labor and trouble bonding with the new baby.
While antidepressants have proven to effectively treat these mood disorders, Muzik said, previous studies show that many pregnant women are reluctant to take these drugs out of concern for their infant's safety.
Meanwhile, mindfulness yoga - which combines meditative focus with physical poses - has proven to be a powerful method to fight stress and boost energy.
For the U-M research study, women who showed signs of depression and who were between 12-26 weeks pregnant participated in 90-minute mindfulness yoga sessions that focused on poses for the pregnant body, as well as support in the awareness of how their bodies were changing to help their babies grow.
"Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encourageing. This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy," Muzik concluded.