Both yoga and massage therapy resulted in positive effects for depressed pregnant women and their infants, according to recent research. Among the benefits were significant decreases in depression and increases in gestational age and birthweight.

The study, “Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity,” involved 84 pregnant women who received a diagnosis of depression based on the Structured Clinical Interview for Depression.

The women were recruited for the study at their first ultrasound assessment, around 20 weeks gestation. Average age of the subjects was 26.6 years and their average socioeconomic status was low.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: massage therapy, yoga or standard prenatal care control group, and the women in all three groups received the same prenatal care.

Participants in the massage therapy group received two 20-minute massages per week for 12 weeks. Licensed massage therapists performed the massages, focusing on the head, back, legs and arms, with the women lying on each side for 10 minutes.

Subjects in the yoga group attended two 20-minute yoga classes per week for 12 weeks, with about eight women per class. A trained yoga instructor taught and led the 20-minute routine, designed specifically for second- and third-trimester pregnant women.

The outcome measures for this study were depression, anxiety, anger, back pain, leg pain, quality of the relationship between the women and their spouses or partners, gestational age and birth weight.

Results of the research showed women in both the yoga group and massage therapy group experienced significant decreases in depression, anxiety, anger, back pain and leg pain. Subjects in these two groups also experienced significant improvements in relationship scores, whereas women in the control group showed none of the above improvements.

The research also revealed significantly better outcomes for the infants in both the yoga and massage therapy groups versus the standard prenatal care control group. Gestational age and birth weight of the infants were greater in the yoga and massage therapy groups.

“In as much as depressed women are often reluctant to use anti-depressants because of their potential side effects, massage and yoga may be cost-effective alternatives for the treatment of depression during pregnancy,” conclude the study’s authors, “most especially if they can decrease prematurity and low birthweight, as they did in this study.”


Authors: Tiffany Field, Miguel Diego, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Lissette Medina, Jeannette Delgado and Andrea Hernandez.

Sources: Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Florida; Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California; and The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Originally published in 2012 in the Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 16, 204-209.