Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alternative Treatments for Depression in Pregnant Women

There has recently been a lot of discussion in the news about the potential hazards of taking antidepressants while pregnant. Some are concerned that they increase the risk of birth defects. Proponents of antidepressants point out, correctly, that depression during pregnancy is also risky and can lead to premature delivery and other complications.

Health care providers often make treatment decisions by balancing the risks and benefits of a medication. Is the risk of using the medication less than the risk of the mother getting depressed again? In most cases, the risk of using the medication is less than the risk of possible depression, so clinicians will prescribe it. But are antidepressants the only choice?

Curiously, while people debate about antidepressant use in both research studies and the popular media, non-drug treatments for depression are largely absent from the discussion. Fortunately, antidepressants are not the only choice for treating depression and may offer a safe “third choice” for treating depression during pregnancy. Physicians and other health care providers may not consider these non-drug treatments, assuming that they cannot address more severe depression.

But recent research paints a very different picture. There are a number of non-drug treatments that are effective for even major depression. Non-drug treatments include Omega-3s, exercise, bright light therapy, psychotherapy, and St. John’s wort. Many of these can be combined with each other, and are sometimes used in addition to antidepressants (only St. John’s wort cannot be combined with medications). What all these treatments have in common is that they are all specifically anti-inflammatory. In the next few installments, I’ll explain that in more detail. But it’s important to know that there are alternatives, and these are especially important to consider during vulnerable times, like pregnancy.

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