April 5, 2004 -- Bright light therapy may relieve depression during pregnancy, possibly as well as antidepressants would.
Depression during pregnancy is a difficult problem since women are discouraged from taking antidepressants. Yet untreated depression during pregnancy can compromise her unborn baby's health, increasing risk of preeclampsia, lower birth weight, premature birth, and childhood behavioral problems, explains lead researcher C. Neill Epperson, MD, a psychiatrist with Yale School of Medicine.
Her study appears in this month's Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
These mothers are at very high risk of postpartum depression, which further puts her child at risk for brain development problems, depression, and substance abuse. And while most antidepressants do not cause major birth defects, they may adversely affect the newborn's growth and development.
Bright light therapy has shown promise as an effective treatment for depression, writes Epperson.
It involves sitting in front of a specially designed light box that provides either a bright or dim light for 60 minutes within 10 minutes of waking up.
In her study, 10 pregnant women, all diagnosed with depression, were assigned to get either five weeks of bright light therapy or were exposed to dim room light. The women underwent a standard interview to measure symptoms of depression and were given a score.
Researchers found a just small difference in the women's depression scores after five weeks. However, after 10 weeks of light therapy, they saw a significantly beneficial effect.
Depression scores were reduced in the women who were exposed to bright light therapy compared with women exposed to dim lights.
The encouraging finding "underscores the need for a full-scale clinical trial to determine whether light therapy can be added as a treatment" for depression during pregnancy, Epperson writes.
SOURCE: Epperson, C. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, March 2004; vol 65: pp 421-425.