Complementary Therapies as Adjuncts in the Treatment of Postpartum Depression

Kira M. Weier, CNM, MSN; Margaret W. Beal, CNM, PhD


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2004;49(2) 

In This Article


Acupuncture has been used in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years. As with several other complementary and alternative medicine modalities, acupuncturists make a diagnosis based on the pattern of symptoms expressed in each particular patient. These methods of diagnosis, which include a detailed history and an observation of the person's pulse and tongue, are highly developed in Chinese medicine and indicate to the practitioner the balance of energy and the state of disease. In acupuncture, needles of hairlike thinness are inserted at certain points along the meridians to stimulate and influence the flow of energy, or Qi (chi), correcting any imbalance or stagnation of energy.

One of the benefits of acupuncture is that there is no contraindication to treatment, and it does not adversely interact with other treatments, such as conventional antidepressive therapy. It also has the benefit of not interfering with lactation. Many people enter a state of deep relaxation during treatments, and some will fall asleep. This is one of the "side effects" of acupuncture treatment and some practitioners warn patients to use caution when driving after a treatment. This deep relaxation could benefit a woman with postpartum depression whose symptoms are often exacerbated by lack of sleep.[12]

Research has shown acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment for psychological problems, including depression. Tao[50] assessed the effects of acupuncture in reducing anxiety and depression in patients with chronic disease. The study included 68 participants who were not taking mood-altering drugs (11 with anxiety, 8 with depression, and 49 with both anxiety and depression). The participants were evaluated by a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who diagnosed each individual's condition and determined the appropriate acupuncture points to be used in treatment. The results showed a statistically significant reduction of both anxiety and depression 1 month after acupuncture treatment. More long-term effects were not studied. The author explained the anxiety-reducing results based on a current theory, stating that anxiety is characterized by an overactive sympathoadrenal system that may be relieved by endorphins; acupuncture has been shown to decrease activity of the sympathoadrenal system and increase the level of endorphins.[50] As with most of the other modalities discussed, no research was found on the use of acupuncture in the treatment of postpartum depression in particular.


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