Light therapy and Obstetrics

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Being a new mother isn't a walk in the park. While a woman is pregnant, her body is carrying a fetus, and she’s experiencing hormonal changes in the body. This can take a toll on a woman's mental health. 

After pregnancy, aside from bringing a new life into the world, women are experiencing changes in their body after childbirth and starting a new lifestyle. While some women transition smoothly into motherhood, others experience mental health issues such as post-partum depression. 

What types of treatments are offered for women experiencing depression during and after pregnancy? Of course, there are various forms of medications and psychotherapy available; however, many women are skeptical about taking medications, and none seem to work effectively. 

Women experiencing depression during and after pregnancy can have their symptoms last between days, months, or even years. Depression during pregnancy include symptoms such as changes in energy level, mood, appetite, and libido. Post-partum depression symptoms can include mood swings, crying spells, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. 

While there are various treatments and psychotherapy for post-partum disorders, there's one non-invasive, non-pharmacological, and high-effective treatment: red light therapy. 

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy uses red and near-infrared wavelengths to penetrate through the skin and increase mitochondrial function, stimulating blood flow, tissue oxygenation, and overall healing. Aside from the physical healing properties, it also aids in treating depression. 

A recent study published by Wirz-Justice in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry shows that light therapy is a useful non-pharmacological treatment for women who suffer depression during pregnancy. The authors showed how light therapy treats seasonal affective disorder. They also reviewed two pilot studies of light therapy of antepartum depression and found that:

  • In an open trial with 3-5 weeks of light therapy for 60 minutes per day, depression ratings improved by 50%.
  • In a 5-week randomized, controlled trial for 60 minutes per day, depression ratings improved by 60% and 40%. 

The women included in this study were between 18-45 years of age, between 4 and 32 weeks of gestation, and were medically healthy. The results showed that light therapy reduced depression in comparison to placebos after 5 weeks. Through this study, it proved the benefits of light therapy for pregnant women with depression.

Light therapy could play a significant role in treating women with depression during and after pregnancy. 

Light therapy and Newborns

Aside from pregnancy depression, it's also believed that light therapy can improve conditions such as Jaundice, for babies. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that is a normal part of the red blood cells. The liver removes bilirubin and passes it through the bowels to leave the body. However, a baby's liver doesn't function as optimally as an adult, meaning they can struggle to pass bilirubin out of their bodies. This is when Jaundice occurs. 

While most cases of Jaundice naturally go away, some cases become serious. Jaundice can be caused by physiological issues, such as a premature liver, breastfeeding, and blood group incompatibility with the mother.

Light therapy has been shown to be highly effective in treating Jaundice. But why? Light therapy uses light to eliminate bilirubin in the blood. The baby's skin and blood absorb the light waves, transforming bilirubin into water-soluble isomers that can be eliminated without the liver.

For years, light therapy has been used in hospitals as a treatment for Jaundice; however, light therapy can be easily and more safely administered with today's technological advancement. 
Light therapy isn't something new, but mothers want to make sure what they're using will be safe for themselves and their babies. Today, we now have MDA-certified and FDA-approved light therapy devices, ensuring they're given a safe amount of light for mothers and their newborn children.

Source: Epperson CN, Terman M, Terman JS. Et al. Randomized clinical trial of bright light therapy for antepartum depression, preliminary findings. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004; 65(3):421-425.