An advocate for mothers with postnatal depression is excited by new research that suggests probiotics taken in pregnancy can help prevent and treat postnatal depression.
"I think it's really valuable," says Mothers Helpers founder Kristina Paterson.
"There's not a lot of research that has been done on prevention, so this is really important. PND and antenatal depression has such an impact, not only on the lives of the women it affects, but also on their children and families."
The probiotics in pregnancy study was done by researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago.
The study, which was sponsored by Fonterra, recruited 423 women in Auckland and Wellington between December 2012 and November 2014 who were all 14 to 16 weeks pregnant. One group took probiotics while the control group was given a placebo. Mothers taking the probiotics reported significantly lower depression and anxiety scores than those in the placebo group.
Lead-author Dr Rebecca Slykerman of the University’s Faculty and Health Sciences says the results are significant as taking a probiotic to assist in postnatal depression is a potentially simple way to help mothers with their mental health.
“Women are unable to access psychological therapy or are reluctant to take antidepressant medication in pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
"Furthermore it takes several weeks for the therapeutic effect of antidepressants to appear and there is a 15-30 per cent discontinuation rate. Safe and effective therapies to prevent and treat postnatal depression are needed.”
It's generally accepted that depression and anxiety in pregnancy and after birth affects 10-15 per cent of women, although Paterson, who formed Mothers Helpers eight years ago after suffering from postnatal and antenatal depression herself, claims that figure is much higher.
"Around one in five women in New Zealand experience PND and one in eight, antenatal depression."
Paterson says, "There are a lot of gaps in treatment for perinatal depression at the moment. There are delays in diagnosis, identification and treatment of both antenatal and postnatal depression. We've also got early intervention centres that are not well funded; it's very hard to find funded counselling.
"Mothers Helpers recently did a survey where 92 per cent of women we surveyed with PND wanted counselling but 69 per cent couldn't afford it.
"So this new research potentially has quite an impact. It's an affordable option and it's a natural option."
Dr Slykerman has cautioned: “The results must be replicated before recommending all pregnant women take probiotics."
Paterson believes an independent study would definitely be worthwhile funding.
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