New Test Claims To Predict The Risk For Postpartum Depression

The odds of developing postpartum depression may be measurable while you’re still pregnant

In a recent study conducted by Northwestern University, they discovered that women with higher levels of oxytocin in their third trimester might experience more severe postpartum depression. Oxytocin is known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ and lead investigator of the study, Suena Massey, M. D., discusses how this was a surprise.

After all, you’d think that a higher level of the ‘cuddle hormone’ would be a good thing. But Dr. Massey says, “Perhaps, when women are starting to experience early signs of depression, their bodies release more oxytocin to combat it.”

They discovered this link between higher levels of oxytocin and postpartum depression after examining 66 women to identify whether biomarkers could predict depressive symptoms.

The women that participated in the study were healthy and not depressed. Their oxytocin levels were measured in the third trimester of pregnancy and then their depressive symptoms were evaluated six weeks postpartum. Symptoms of postpartum depression include headaches, more aches and pains, waking up early and unable to go back to sleep, fatigue, a sense of heaviness, a general feeling of sadness, and changes in appetite. During the postpartum evaluation, researchers found that the higher the level of oxytocin, the more severe the depressive symptoms.

These groundbreaking findings could lead to drastic changes in the way medical professionals treat postpartum depression—on a biological level we may be closer to understanding what causes it and how to stop it. “It’s not ready to become a new blood test yet. But it tells us we are on the track to identifying biomarkers to help predict postpartum depression,” says Dr. Massey.

Just as doctors screen pregnant women for non-psychiatric conditions, such as gestational diabetes, Dr. Massey believes psychiatric conditions like postpartum depression should be treated in the same way. She says, “In light of the far reaching consequences of untreated postpartum depression to women and their children, the ability to predict which individuals are at greatest risk for developing it yields the exciting possibility for prevention.”

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