Acupuncture for the Treatment of Depression During Pregnancy

Acupuncture for the Treatment of Depression During Pregnancy

Depression during pregnancy is relatively common, affecting about 10 to 15% of women. While there is a growing body of literature supporting the reproductive safety of certain antidepressants, many women and their physicians would prefer to avoid the use of these medications during pregnancy; thus, there is a clear need for effective non-pharmacologic treatments for women who suffer from depression during pregnancy.

In a recent study presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) 30th Annual Meeting by Dr. Rachel Manber and her colleagues at Stanford University, the efficacy of acupuncture was assessed in a group of pregnant depressed women.  In this study, 150 pregnant women with DSM-IV major depressive disorder and a score >14 on the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD-17) were randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments:  acupuncture specifically targeting depressive symptoms (SPEC, n=52), an active control acupuncture (NSPEC, n=49), and massage therapy (MSSG, n=49). Participates received treatment over an 8-week period consisting of 12 sessions (25-30 min each).

Acupuncture treatments were provided in a blinded fashion.  At baseline, a senior acupuncturist (non-blinded) designed a set of treatments that was individually tailored for each patient.  A treating acupuncturist (blinded) needled the points that were prescribed by the senior acupuncturist.  Each SPEC and NSPEC treatment consisted of the same number of acupuncture points distributed across the same general areas of the body.

The HAMD-17 was administered at baseline, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks.  Responders were those with a HAMD-17 score of < 14 and a greater than 50% reduction from baseline.

At the end of the study, women in the SPEC group had lower HAM-D scores than those in the NSPIEC and massage therapy control groups.  In the SPEC group, 63.0% responded versus 37.5% in the NSPEC group and 50.0% in the massage group.

The findings suggest that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for women who suffer from depression during pregnancy.  Whether or not this modality is efficacious in all women, specifically those with more severe depressive symptoms or with comorbid anxiety disorders, is not yet clear; however, these results suggest that acupuncture may be an attractive option for women who wish to avoid the use of antidepressants during pregnancy.

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) 30th Annual Meeting: The Pregnancy Meeting: Abstract 8. Presented February 4, 2010.


  1. Pec Indman EdD, MFT February 24, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I have several thoughts….
    We talk about increased rates of prematurity both with prenatal depression and SSRI’s. I wonder if any of these babies in this study were premature? Treating depression in pregnancy is important in the prevention of postpartum depression. I wonder what the rates of depression postpartum was in these women. I think we also need to consider variability across providers. We still have a lot to learn.

    I love this blog!

  2. MGH Center for Women's Mental Health March 17, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks for your comments. In this preliminary report, they did not give any data on rates of postpartum depression in women who were treated with acupuncture. There were some interesting findings in a report from Margaret Spinelli several years ago where she used interpersonal therapy (IPT) to treat depression during pregnancy. It was highly effective in treating the depressive symptoms and also seemed to reduce the risk for PPD. We’ll see what happens with acupuncture.

    And you raised another very important quextion. Does effectively treating depression during pregnancy reduce the risk of certain complications, such as prematurity.

  3. Ahmad July 20, 2012 at 2:18 am

    Hi All,
    I have also something to say about acupuncture is Benefits of acupuncture for infertility and benefits of acupuncture for stress are known worldwide. Acupuncture has helped many couples to deal with their stress levels and increase their fertility. Achieving pregnancy for many couples has been possible through acupuncture.

    Benefits of acupuncture treatment have been known since a long time. To get the maximum benefits of acupuncture you need to find yourself a licensed acupuncturist. However, this alternative medicine is on the expensive side. If you are willing to shell out the extra dough, then you can deal with your troubles better, with a little prick of help. Take care!

  4. Jazlyn December 7, 2012 at 3:36 am

    Acupuncture is an efficient form of treatment for curing depression. Depression is a health condition that can adversely affect the social and personal life of an individual. For the treatment to be successful it is important to seek treatment from a recognized acupuncturist.

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