Study: Taking Probiotics During Pregnancy Reduces Risk of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

A new study finds that probiotics may reduce the risk of postpartum depression.Mothering is hard enough, but for those suffering from the baby blues, it can be downright overwhelming.  A new study finds that probiotics may reduce the risk of postpartum depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 9 U.S. women experience postpartum depression.  The condition strikes during the vulnerable time right after birth, and may cause symptoms such as intense sadness and crying, withdrawing from loved ones, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

While early care is essential for those experiencing this mood disorder, many women remain untreated. For some, they are unable to recognize the signs and symptoms, with well-intentioned loved ones reassuring them that they are just tired and adjusting to their new life.  For others, the stigma attached to depression causes them to refuse the seeking of treatment.  Many women naturally put their own needs on hold while caring for their baby.

However, untreated postpartum depression can lead to serious complications, affecting both the health of the mom and the baby.  Depressed mothers are less likely to take adequate care of themselves and their babies, resulting in attachment and bonding issues.  Further, children who have mothers with untreated postpartum depression are at higher risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Related: Mom’s Facebook Post Shows Reality of Postpartum Depression 

There are several treatment options for postpartum depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, lifestyle modifications, and medications.  However, many new moms are reluctant to consider medications due to the potential side-effects when breastfeeding.

New research out of New Zealand reveals that a safe and simple supplement taken during pregnancy may help to ward off postpartum depression.  The double-blind study found that taking a probiotic pill once a day during pregnancy, and for the six-months following birth significantly lowered both depression and anxiety scores.

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that normally exist in our gut flora.  Each of us has at least 1,000 different types of bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. Found naturally in fruits and vegetables, they also exist in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, and kombucha.

For the study, 423 women were randomly divided into two groups, one of which received the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 (HN001). Of the 212 women who took the probiotic, 32 women reported symptoms of depression.  Alternatively, in the placebo group, 44 women experienced depressive symptoms.  Equally impressive, rates of anxiety were nearly halved for the probiotic-treated mothers.

Related: Probiotics May Be a Safe Way to Clear Up a Child’s Eczema 

The study findings are exciting, as they suggest a preventative measure to reduce the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety.  Further, probiotics have been found to be both a safe and cost-effective treatment that more women may be willing to take.

“Women are unable to access psychological therapy or are reluctant to take antidepressant medication in pregnancy or while breastfeeding,” said lead-author Rebecca Slykerman. “Furthermore it takes several weeks for the therapeutic effect of antidepressants to appear, and there is a 15-30 percent discontinuation rate. Safe and effective therapies to prevent and treat postnatal depression are needed.”

While the study is limited by the small sample size and the use of only one strain of bacteria, it does add to the growing body of evidence suggesting a relationship between gut health and mental health.

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