Postnatal Depression (PND), or postpartum depression (PPD), affects up to 19% of new mothers.
For many of these mothers it comes as a shock.
A time that was supposed to be spent adoring their new baby can be spent with constant anxieties, feelings of hopelessness and even insomnia.
We know that all new mothers need support – more than we provide in most Western cultures – but mothers with PND benefit from extra support.
What if we could find out which mothers were more at risk and help them to have support in place before baby even arrives?
Mothers with a history of PND tend to be better prepared for subsequent births. Some report being able to treat their PND before the symptoms get as bad as their first unexpected bout with depression.
Knowing which women are at risk can offer them the benefit of early treatment and support, just like mothers with a history of PND.
What Did The Researchers Find?
Up until now, we could really only look at social risk factors (partner support, mother's age, stress, etc) when trying to determine which women were at risk for PND.
While that can be helpful, we also know that PND doesn't discriminate. Women of every age, background, financial situation and with varying levels of partner support can develop postnatal depression. This lead researchers to believe that there could be an underlying biological cause.
A new study found that a blood test during pregnancy could detect epigentic changes to the oxytocin receptor gene. The results of the study showed that women who had the oxytocin receptor blood markers were nearly three times as likely to develop PND than women without these markers.
What Is Oxytocin? And How Can It Impact PND?
Oxytocin is a hormone many associate with labor and birth. While it does play a big role in birth (and later, breastfeeding), oxytocin impacts us throughout our lives. You might have even heard of oxytocin being referred to as the “love hormone.”
Oxytocin is responsible for regulating our stress, our social interactions, and our emotions. It also plays a significant role in mother baby attachment. It helps mothers and babies to connect both physically and emotionally.
While there was some idea that oxytocin played a role in PND, this is the first study to locate why and how. Low oxytocin has been linked to depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and mood swings – also symptoms of PND This study showed the link to low oxytocin had to do with the oxytocin receptor gene and it could be evaluated before baby arrives.
See our article: 15 Fascinating Facts About Oxytocin.
What Does This Mean?
This study was relatively small, about 545 mothers participated. However, the results are compelling. This means further research could help us determine which mothers might be at risk for developing PND.
In time, a blood test to check for oxytocin receptor blood markers might even become a regular prenatal test.
Is Postnatal Depression Preventable?
This study shows that we might be able to pinpoint which mothers are at a higher risk of developing PND. The risk doesn't guarantee a woman will develop PND, nor does being lower risk mean a woman won't develop PND. We still aren't 100% sure the cause of PND, but this study is a great step in the right direction.
What we do know, there are somethings that might help reduce the risk of developing PND, including:
- Consuming healthy fats, such as DHA and other Omega 3s
- Adequate support
- A healthy amount of sleep
- Working with a mental health professional if you have prenatal/antenatal depression
- Maintaining realistic expectations for life with a new baby
- Having adequate support during labor and birth, and having a supportive maternity care provider
Resources For Mothers With PND
If you are experiencing PND, your healthcare provider mentioned you being at risk, or if you have concerns about developing PND there are resources available to help. It is important to bring up any concerns with your midwife or doctor, they should be able to offer you support and advise you what, if anything, you should do.
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