Researchers have studied the effects of yoga and found it can reduce the risk of expectant women developing anxiety and depression.
A mother’s stress during pregnancy is recognised as being bad for the baby, and has been linked with premature birth, low birth weight and developmental problems in young children and even teenagers. Anxiety has also been linked with post-natal depression.
The results of new research led one expert to suggest yoga should be provided on the NHS for mums-to-be as a cheap way of preventing serious complications later.
“The results confirm what many who take part in yoga have suspected for a long time”
Yoga has been espoused by experts and celebrities as a way of de-stressing, a nd while medical professionals have long recommended yoga as a way of tackling stress, scientists have now tested the theory in a research setting.
In a paper published today in the journal Depression and Anxiety, academics from Newcastle and Manchester Universities show that women who attended a yoga class every week for eight weeks experienced less anxiety compared to those who received normal antenatal treatment.
Dr James Newham, a research associate at Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society − who carried out the work while still at Manchester − said: “It is surprising this has never been looked at before, we have long believed that it works but no research had been done to back up the theory.
“We have now gone some way to prove that it can help,” he said. “It was not a small effect either. This has the potential to really help mothers who are feeling anxious about their pregnancy.”
Professor John Aplin, one of the senior investigators in Manchester, and himself a yoga teacher of long standing, said: “Many women opt to practise yoga during their pregnancy but this is the first worldwide report on the effects of both single and multiple sessions of antenatal yoga on mood.”
The study, funded by baby charity Tommy’s, was carried out in Greater Manchester and looked at 59 women who were pregnant for the first time and asked them to self-report their emotional state.
They were split into several groups, some of which took part in a yoga session a week for eight weeks, while the others just had normal pre-natal treatment.
“This has the potential to really help mothers who are feeling anxious about their pregnancy”
A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormone levels by 14%. Similar findings were made at both the first and final session of the eight-week intervention.
Professor Aplin said: “The results confirm what many who take part in yoga have suspected for a long time.
“There is also evidence yoga can reduce the need for pain relief during birth and the likelihood for delivery by emergency caesarean section,” he said. “Perhaps we should be looking at providing yoga classes on the NHS.
“It would be relatively cheap to implement, could help mothers and their children be healthier, as well as reducing the costs of longer-term health care.”
Jacqui Clinton, health campaigns director at Tommy’s, said: “We already know that pregnancy yoga can help improve physical health and strength on the run up to having a baby, and this new evidence shows that it may have important benefits for women’s emotional health too.”