Depression During Pregnancy


Pregnancy can be one of the most amazing times in a woman’s life, despite the morning sickness, fatigue, abdominal pain, headaches and insomnia that may accompany it. For many women, and in most circumstances, pregnancy is experienced as a happy time. But for a significant number of women, happiness isn’t part of the picture.

In February I read an article in the health section of the NY Times on the subject of depression during and after pregnancy. It was interesting but didn’t seem to be a surprising or new topic of concern, given that the World Health Organization’s site states, “Worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression.”

That’s a lot of women! The Times reported on the topic: “The condition increases a woman’s risk of becoming suicidal or harming her infant… It also increases the likelihood that babies will be born premature or have low birth weight and can impair a mother’s ability to bond with or care for her child…. children of mothers who had perinatal depression have more behavior problems, cognitive difficulties and mental illness.”

I wondered what’s being done to alleviate this problem that can hurt a mom, her child, and possibly everyone around them. So I googled it. I searched “depression during and after pregnancy” and 162 million results popped up in less than a second. 

About one in seven women experience depression during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth—this is not to be confused with “baby blues” a condition that usually dissipates within 10 days and is characterized by some anxiety, crying, tiredness, and feeling irritable.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that health providers note women who present with specific red flags—certain risk factors such as recent divorce, domestic abuse, being a teen or single mom, economic strain—and guide them to counseling programs.

“We really need to find these women before they get depressed,” said Karina Davidson, a task force member and senior vice president for research for Northwell Health. 

When I think about this widespread problem affecting millions of women, it occurs to me—as a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program—that we have a unique effective offering to bring to the table.  Stated flat out: TM is easy to learn, effortless to practice, and it can prevent and reduce depression.   

Stress and depression

Stress—too much pressure mentally, physically, emotionally—can damage the nervous system. Research suggests that excessive physical or emotional stress causes a woman’s body to produce hormones that can increase the probability of difficulties during pregnancy and delivery. It’s now known that women may yield to depression under lower stress levels than men even when they are sharing family or career responsibilities. A mother’s stress and anxiety may also negatively affect the fetus and may even produce long-term effects on the child.

How Transcendental Meditation can help

To avert the detrimental effects of stress during pregnancy, relaxation and serenity are important to emotional as well as physical health. That’s why it is important for women to learn the Transcendental Meditation technique prior to pregnancy or as early as possible during pregnancy. A study led by researchers at University of California Los Angeles showed that depressive symptoms decreased by almost 50% over a 12-month period among people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, compared to controls.

Fortunately for pregnant women, TM is practiced sitting comfortably and no accompanying diet, exercise or lifestyle is required. During the meditation, the mind effortlessly settles to quieter, more peaceful levels. The body simultaneously settles into a profoundly relaxed state—found to be a deeper rest than we’d experience in a nap—allowing deep-rooted stress and fatigue to dissolve. Mental and physical health are re-balanced. Resilience builds, helping to avert further vulnerability to stress.

Even in extreme cases of veterans with PTSD, symptoms of depression have been demonstrated to decrease as much as 55 percent, as shown in a study published in 2011 in the journal Military Medicine.

The British Journal of Psychiatry published a 1997 study on maternal stress or anxiety in pregnancy showing that a healthy physiological response occurs during TM practice as indicated by decreased stress hormones, improved cardiovascular health and more orderly coherent brain functioning. Depression is associated with low levels of serotonin, and studies show that TM practice increases serotonin in subjects whose serotonin is too low.

Sometimes awareness of depression further depresses a person. An article in the April 2019 issue of The New Yorker stated that John Teasdale, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, named this phenomenon aptly “depression about depression.” A diagnosis for a pregnant woman can further increase her depression—counseling can be helpful in guiding a woman who is depressed, but counseling or medication may not be solutions, may not be viable, or may not be quick enough. Without engaging a mom-to-be or new mom psychologically, TM simply physically calms her nervous system and reduces the stress that causes depression. 

Research published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology in 1995 found that university students who learned the TM technique experienced decreased depression after only three months practice.

The experience of expanding happiness and relief from pressure during the TM practice is the opposite of depression. “Severely depressed people often believe they will never feel better,” says Dr. Nancy Leibler, author of Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way, “Because the TM technique gives us a feeling of fulfillment and calmness, it also gives hope.”


About the Author

Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.

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