Study Shows Acupuncture Works to Relieve Depression In Pregnancy

New York Times Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin reports on a study newly published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology finding that acupuncture has the potential to treat depression in pregnancy, also known as antenatal depression or antepartum depression.

“Researchers at Stanford University tested alternative treatments and antidepressants for pregnant women, and found that acupuncture designed specifically to treat depression is a potential substitute. Sixty-three percent of women who received that treatment responded well, compared with only 44 percent who received massage therapy or acupuncture that was not specifically targeted for depression. The study did not compare any of these treatments with either antidepressants or psychotherapy.”

A news release from Stanford University, where the study was conducted, points out:

“Depression, if left untreated, can pose risks to both mother and baby. The mom-to-be could stop taking care of herself or her fetus, and might even engage in self-destructive behavior. Studies have also linked depression during pregnancy to poor birth outcomes and postpartum depression. ‘Treatment of depression during pregnancy is critically important so that a woman can maintain her sense of well-being and take good care of herself, her fetus and, someday, her child,’ said [study co-author Deirdre] Lyell.”

Very true. I’m excited to see this alternative treatment has potential.

I wonder how a mom-to-be would find an acupuncturist who is well-trained in working with pregnant women and in doing acupuncture targeted for depression?

Lisa Belkin also makes the point that, given that low-income women are at a higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression, “What are the odds that a pregnant woman who does not see a doctor is going to get diagnosed and treated for depression, and with acupuncture no less?”

Maybe someday.

Here’s a direct link to the study abstract. And here is the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health weighing in on the study.

Update: And for an opposing view of this study’s results, read “Is Acupunture Valuable in Treating Depression?” from Better Health:

“Therefore we have a small and improperly blinded and randomized study showing a modest clinical effect. This does not significantly alter the low prior probability of a treatment effect from needle placement.

This study should also be considered in the context of other trials looking at acupuncture and depression. This very recent Cochrane review concluded:

We found insufficient evidence to recommend the use of acupuncture for people with depression. The results are limited by the high risk of bias in the majority of trials meeting inclusion criteria.”

Photo credit: © Max Tactic – Fotolia

About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

Tell Us What You Think


  1. Acupuncture is great with 1 major drawback: the expense. At 55.00/pop at my clinic, 3 times a week adds up to 165.00/week. That's 660 a month for relief. My prescription is 500 less. You do the math.

  2. Carol Geisler says:

    I had a few sessions of acupuncture, targeting my depression depression symptoms. I responded well each time, and found the effects lasted a little longer each time.
    Cost can certainly be a factor, as can finding time for treatments. I do think that finding practitioners with specialized expertise will continue to get easier. But I believe the most important reason to bring up acupuncture as an alternative treatment is simply because it's another option. We all respond differently to different treatments and have different situations. The more options women are aware of, the better the chances they can find a form of help that works for them.

  3. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Options are good!

  4. Yep, I would venture to guess that most acupuncturists are trained in pregnancy – similar to massage and chiropractic services they include pregnancy in the training. I went to my acupuncturist when I experienced pre-labor as another way to stop the contractions. My acupuncturist actually wanted me to bring my newborn baby in to his office to do a treatment on him! (I declined.) Depression and overall mood issues were a big focal point for my provider, so – I would guess most providers would be trained in that as well. Unfortunately, I didn't utilize him after I had my child because the appointments were always over an hour and I just didn't feel like I had that time to spare when my son was a newborn. Wish I had.

  5. With the recent meta studies coming out saying that anti-depressant medications do not work for a lot of the population and when they do work, they seem to work only short-term…it seems important to be looking at "alternatives." Just because it's a drug doesn't always mean that it's safe or scientific. In fact I think sometimes we confuse being duped by drug advertisements that promise what they can't deliver. By the same token, just because a treatment is "natural" doesn't always mean that it will work, or that it is safe either. I would like to see the list of options expanded though so that practitioners and their patients don't think drugs are the only answer, though they may be an answer, depending upon the individual. Creating a bridge between conventional and alternative modalities seem to be in the best interest of the patient. And sometimes it may be the combination of both worlds that best serves.

  6. Thanks for the information. Acupuncture has been working well in many main course areas. This is really good for pregnant women because it is really a essential to get them relieve while that period.

  7. I agree with Christina. Acupuncture is a great way of releasing stress and depression but not anyone can afford it. There must be some other way.

  8. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I agree with that. I think the more effective treatments we have the better. Some people have insurance, some don't. Some people have side-effects with medication or it doesn't work for them. For others, medication works great. Some get better with therapy. Others don't have access to it or can't afford it. I hope we will have a wide variety of things that meet women no matter where they are in life.


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