for mothers

Postpartum Depression May Be Predicted with a Blood Test

Researchers discover that low levels of a hormone in the blood may lead to postpartum depression.

A study in the health journal "Frontiers in Genetics" reveals that the hormone oxytocin plays a role in having a healthy birth. Everything from maternal bonding and stress levels to mood regulation and being at risk for postpartum depression can be traced back to low levels of the hormone.

The Lowdown

Researchers from the University of Virginia say a marker in the mother's blood may shed helpful insight into her experience as a new mom and identify if she may have postpartum depression.

"We can greatly improve the outcome of this disorder with the identification of markers, biological or otherwise, that can identify women who may be at risk for its development," said Jessica Connelly, an assistant professor of psychology at the university and senior author of the study. "We know that women who have experienced depression before pregnancy are at higher risk of developing depression in the postpartum period. However, women who have never experienced depression also develop postpartum depression. These markers we identified may help to identify them, in advance."

The study's research team agrees that more trials need to be conducted, but they say this initial information might be helpful for clinicians attempting to identify women at risk for postpartum depression, a condition that affects 20 percent of new mothers.

The Upshot

As with any disorder, having a way to predict its onset is huge. Imagine if a routine blood test could help expectant mothers prepare for delivery and postpartum with the knowledge that they are at risk for postpartum depression. They could work with their health care team to elevate oxytocin levels naturally before labor and delivery, then implement checks and balances into the mother's life as she begins to care for her newborn. The shame and confusion that often surrounds postpartum depression would be diffused and the mother and child could get the help they need immediately without needing the courage to speak up during such a debilitating time.

Leave a Comment