Light therapy may improve symptoms in pregnant women with depression.
About one in 10 pregnant women are depressed, according to researchers and that puts them at higher risk of preterm delivery
and having a baby with low birth weight.
Light therapy has shown success in people with seasonal affective disorder who generally get depressed during the winter when there's less sunlight than at other times of year.
Early findings have suggested the treatment might help people with non-seasonal depression as well.
To see if those findings hold up in pregnant women, researchers randomly assigned 46 depressed women
to treatment with either a bright fluorescent light or a non-therapeutic dim red light, the placebo group.
Women were told to sit under the light for an hour each day, starting within a few minutes of waking up. The study lasted for 5 weeks, with participants coming in regularly to evaluate their depression.
Nineteen women either quit treatment in the middle of the study or were not included in the final results because they started taking antidepressants
during the trial, leaving 27 women to be analyzed.
By the end of 5 weeks, 13 out of 16 women receiving light therapy had at least a 50% improvement in their symptoms, and 11 were no longer depressed. That compared to five out of 11 women in the placebo group who had a 50% or greater improvement and four who stopped being depressed.
The treatment can also be used throughout pregnancy and after the baby is born, a time when depression is especially common.
Researchers noted that the response to light therapy was as good as what has been found in treatment with antidepressant drugs. This makes sense because the light acts on pathways in the brain in the same way that antidepressants do.
But taking an hour of the day to devote to treatment isn't necessarily feasible for all women.
Therapeutic lights typically cost around $200, according to Epperson, and last years. By comparison, antidepressants can be bought for about $20 per month.
Future studies are underway to confirm the effectiveness of light therapy in other groups of pregnant women with depression.Are you a depressed and pregnant? What helps you feel better?