Yale researchers found that radiant-light therapy may be an effective treatment for depression in pregnant women. Dr. Dan Oren, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine in New Jersy, felt that the availability of an easy-to-use, potentially non-toxic antidepressant light therapy in pregnancy is a clinically attractive option.
The researchers conducted a pilot experiment to see whether exposure to bright light, a technique used to treat those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression, might also work on women suffering from depression during pregnancy.
The author noted that around 10% of pregnant women meet the criteria for major depression. However, doctors are often reluctant to prescribe antidepressant medications to pregnant women for fear of their effect on the fetus. Previous research has suggested that bright light exposure may help people suffering from major depression or from postpartum depression. But the perfect mechanism has not been ruled out. Some data suggest that light therapy advances the timing of the daily biological clock, which may then bring about the antidepressant effect.
15 pregnant women suffering from major depression completed the pilot study. They were instructed to expose themselves to an hour a day of bright ultraviolet light from a light box within 15 minutes of waking up for three to six weeks.
The researchers reported that the patients showed a moderate improvement of their levels of depression after just three weeks of light treatment. For the seven women who underwent five weeks of light therapy, their average score on a scale that measures depression improved by 60%. When the light therapy was discontinued, the women showed signs of an increase in their levels of depression. The author felt that if confirmed, this treatment could offer pregnant women potential relief from depression with few side effects.