Featured Mental health Women's health

Depression in pregnancy: Studying a new treatment

Lynnette Walker makes a heart with her hands over her baby bump.
Written by Marie Sanderson

When Dr. Sophie Grigoriadis heard about transcranial direct current stimulation – tDCS – a new non-drug treatment approved by Health Canada for the treatment of depression, she was intrigued. She is now part of a team studying this treatment for pregnant women.

Each week, Dr. Grigoriadis, head of the Women’s Mood and Anxiety Clinic: Reproductive Transitions at Sunnybrook, sees patients who are pregnant and have depression. After reviewing general risks, like the increased likelihood of giving birth to a preterm baby at a lower birthweight, she talks with patients about treatment options.

Psychotherapy, or ‘talk therapy’, can be very helpful. “A lot of people prefer it over medication because there is no fetal drug exposure,” says Dr. Grigoriadis. “One of the problems is that therapy can take weeks to months to help with depression, so the patient and baby can be exposed to the negative impacts of depression during that time.”

Antidepressant medication can improve symptoms of depression very quickly and with very few side effects. However, medications do cross over to the baby to some extent and some patients may be hesitant to take them while pregnant.

This new approach, tDCS, uses a small electric current to locally stimulate a part of the brain that functions abnormally when an individual is depressed, requiring 30 minutes of daily treatment over three weeks. It can be done by patients at home after receiving training, while also continuing to see their regular health care team, including pregnancy care provider and psychiatrist.

“Our team has already done a small study with 20 pregnant patients with depression, which had promising results for safety and effectiveness. We’re looking for more patients for a larger study to see whether this should be offered widely during pregnancy,” adds Dr. Grigoriadis. The study is randomized, meaning patients will have a 50/50 chance of receiving tDCS or being placed in a control group which receives a similar looking device but does not deliver any electric current.

For more information and to enroll in the study, please visit https://sunnybrook.ca/content/?page=tdcs-pregnancy-depression-research-study.

About the author

Marie Sanderson

Marie Sanderson is a Senior Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

Have a question about this post? Get in touch.