The effect of complementary medicines and therapies on maternal anxiety and depression in pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis

J Affect Disord. 2019 Feb 15:245:428-439. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.11.054. Epub 2018 Nov 6.


Background: Depression and anxiety are common during the antenatal and postnatal period, and are known to have a significant impact on the woman and her unborn infant. Pregnant women state a preference for non-pharmacological treatment options, and use complementary medicines and therapies to manage these symptoms. We examined the effectiveness and safety of these modalities on depression and anxiety during pregnancy.

Methods: CENTRAL, EMBASE and PubMed databases were searched for randomised controlled trials comparing complementary therapies and medicines to a control, for pregnant women with depression or anxiety. The primary outcome measure was antenatal depression or anxiety.

Results: Twenty randomised controlled trials containing 1092 women were included in the review. We found some evidence of reduced antenatal depression from three modalities. Acupuncture reduced the number of women diagnosed with antenatal depression (RR 1.68, 95% CI 1.06-2.66, 1 trial). Massage reduced the severity of antenatal depression in one trial of 149 women (SMD -0.73, 95%CI -1.07--0.39). One small trial of bright light therapy found reduced antenatal depression (RR 4.80, 95% CI -8.39--1.21, 27 women). There was no evidence of a reduction in depression and anxiety from relaxation, yoga, mindfulness and fish oils. Overall the risk of bias was high or unclear for the majority of studies.

Limitations: There are few high quality randomised controlled trials of complementary medicines and therapies examining the effect on anxiety and depression.

Conclusion: Acupuncture, bright light therapy, and massage may reduce antenatal depression. There is a need for high quality and larger studies that include postnatal follow up and maternal and neonatal outcomes.

Keywords: Anxiety; CAM, complementary and alternative medicine; Complementary medicine and therapies; Depression.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Massage
  • Mindfulness
  • Phototherapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Pregnancy Complications / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Yoga