Can doctors predict Postpartum Depression?

If you could find out while pregnant that you had a tendency toward postpartum depression,it could be a real lifesaver, literally. You would be able to prepare for it in advance, identify and deal with the symptoms, and make sure you have the help you need to stay healthy and properly care for your new baby.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum Depression is a common psychological side-effect of childbirth. As many as one in five new mothers in the U.S. experiences postpartum depression shortly after childbirth, leading to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Another seven percent of women battle major depression after giving birth. If not properly diagnosed and treated, postpartum depression can lead new mothers to attempt suicide, neglect or even harm their newborns.

Can it really be predicted?

But now, researchers at the University of California, Irvine said they can fairly accurately predict which women will later suffer from postpartum depression, using a simple blood test. This type of screening test could one day become part of a woman’s standard prenatal care, along with the gestational diabetes screen, which is typically performed around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

This would work by measuring the level of a hormone produced by the placenta around the 25th week of pregnancy.  The study found that women with higher levels of placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH) midway through pregnancy were more likely to develop postpartum depression. The blood test correctly identified 75% of those who had future postpartum depression symptoms.

In pregnant women, the placenta pumps out 100 times more CRH than is normally produced by the hypothalamus. The hormone has been nicknamed the “placental clock” because it is thought to prepare the woman’s body for childbirth, said psychologist Ilona Yim, who worked on the study.

Levels of CRH and other hormones drop after the mother gives birth, which Yim said causes hormone “withdrawal” that can create havoc with the endocrine system.

“It puts the whole system out of whack,” she said in a telephone interview. (Reuters)

Other risk factors for postpartum depression include a history of depression or premenstrual syndrome, stress and anxiety during pregnancy, a lack of social support, and fluctuating hormone levels. The presence of high levels of CRH in the body triggers a variety of reactions, including an increase in the production of stress hormones, like cortisol. This can lead to the development of mental disorders, such as severe depression.

While antidepressant drugs can sometimes relieve postpartum depression, Yim urged a preventive approach, such as having at-risk women learn relaxation techniques common in prenatal yoga classes, and bolstering the emotional ties they may need. (Reuters)

You know what they say about an ounce of prevention… If doctors really can predict and watch for postpartum depression, it seems that could save many families much grief. It will be intereting to see what comes of this important study!

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