London: Moms-to-be, take note! Yoga can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression in pregnant women, according to a first-of-its-kind UK study.
While it has long been assumed by medical professionals that yoga can help reduce stress levels in mothers, it had never been tested in a research setting, scientists said.
Researchers from Manchester and Newcastle Universities found that women who attended a yoga class a week for eight weeks had decreased anxiety scores compared to the control group who received normal antenatal treatment.
A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormone levels by 14 per cent, researchers found.
Stress during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth, low birth weight and increased developmental and behavioural problems in the child as a toddler and adolescent, as well as later mental health problems in the mother.
A high level of anxiety during pregnancy is linked with postnatal depression which in turn is associated with increased risk of developing depression later in life.
The study 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.
"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," said James Newham, who carried out the research as a PhD student at Tommy`s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester, and is now a research associate at Newcastle University.
"We have now gone some way to prove that it can help. It was not a small effect either. This has the potential to really help mothers who are feeling anxious about their pregnancy," Newham 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," said Professor John Aplin, one of the senior investigators in Manchester, and himself a yoga teacher.
The study was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.