Antenatal depression can have detrimental consequences for the mother and fetus. Exercise may be a useful intervention to prevent and treat antenatal depression. This systematic review seeks to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude that exercise is an effective intervention for preventing and treating antenatal depression. Six trials (seven comparisons) were eligible for inclusion. Meta-analysis revealed a significant reduction in depression scores (SMD -0.46, 95% CI -0.87 to -0.05, P = 0.03, I(2) = 68%) for exercise interventions relative to comparator groups. The test for subgroup differences in women who were non-depressed (one trial) (SMD -0.74, 95%CI -1.22 to -0.27, P = 0.002) and depressed (five trials) (SMD -0.41, 95% CI -0.88 to 0.07, P = 0.09) at baseline was not significant (P = 0.32). The test for subgroup differences between aerobic (one trial) and non-aerobic exercise (five trials) was also nonsignificant (P = 0.32).
This study found some evidence that exercise may be effective in treating depression during pregnancy but this conclusion is based on a small number of low-moderate quality trials with significant heterogeneity and wide confidence intervals.