Light Therapy for Depression during Pregnancy

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • When I found out that I was pregnant, I made three phone calls. The first was to my husband at work, the second was to my parents and the third was to my psychopharmacologist (a doctor who specializes in psychiatric medication).


    My pregnancy was planned, so my doctor and I had already talked about what my options were in terms of antidepressant treatment. Even though I suffer from severe depression, I decided to taper off my medication once I became pregnant. I figured I'd just cross my fingers and hope that pregnancy hormones would protect me from depression, although my doctor and I agreed that if I became severely depressed, we would revisit the decision.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    Not only did my severe depression not return, but I didn't even have mild depression for the entire pregnancy. I was lucky. Estimates of the number of pregnant women with depression range from 1 in 5 (March of Dimes) to 1 in 7 (American Journal of Psychiatry) to up to 1 in 5 (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Even if you go with the lower estimate, it's too many. One is too many. And it's important to treat that depression. A 2008 study found a link between depression during pregnancy and pre-term births.


    Until recently, it seemed that pregnant women with depression had only three choices: treatment with antidepressants, treatment with talk therapy, and no treatment at all. But a new study raises hopes for a fourth option: light therapy.


    In the past, light therapy has been used predominantly as a treatment for people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But researchers have started looking at the possibility of using light therapy to treat clinical depression. The most recent study looked at treating depression and sleep problems in the elderly with light therapy.


    Light therapy might seem like the perfect do it yourself treatment, but it's actually fairly complicated. It's not possible to receive a therapeutic dose simply by sitting outside for a while every day, for example. The therapeutic levels of light therapy are five to twenty times higher than indoor lighting. Successful light therapy requires the right combination of light intensity, the correct angle, session length and the optimal distance from the light. After you get your light box, you will probably need to measure the distance you sit from it for a few days and talk the results over with your doctor.


    While light treatment is neither cheap (it's generally not covered by health insurance) nor necessarily convenient, this study is encouraging. Light therapy treatment might be a more palatable alternative for women who have mild to moderate depression during pregnancy.

Published On: May 11, 2011