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New Study Shows Pregnancy Hormone May Predict Postpartum Depression

Alison Wood | 2, June 2013


Could measuring levels of a certain hormone help identify women who are prone to postpartum depression before they deliver their baby? A new study suggests it may be possible.

Researchers believed that women who had high levels of the stress hormone called placental corticotrophin-releasing hormone are at a higher risk of postpartum depression. This special stress hormone is produced by the placenta.

Laura Glynn, s psychologist at Chapman University in Orange, California co-authored a study on this very subject. She presented the findings at an annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

How is it possible that the hormone that is present in higher-than normal amounts during pregnancy could affect emotions after delivery? It's all linked to the placenta.

The placenta, an important part of pregnancy, puts out different amounts of the hormone pCRH during the nine months of pregnancy. Shortly before birth, these numbers elevate. Some scientists hypothesize that the increased amount of this hormone before birth effects the timing of a woman's delivery.

"It's been called the placental clock," Glynn reported.

Women who deliver their babies before 36 weeks of gestation also have higher levels of the pCRH.

In the study co-authored by Glynn, pregnant women were tested for specific levels of the hormone pCRH at 15, 19, 25, 31 and 36 weeks of gestation. Glynn and her colleagues also recorded the same women's levels of postpartum depression three and six months after delivery.

Their findings only served to affirm their hypothesis that postpartum depression can be linked to this stress hormone. The women that had higher levels of pCRH during the middle of their pregnancies were more than likely to be depressed in the first three months of postpartum. The pCRH levels during pregnancy did not seem to affect the outcome of postpartum depression at the six month mark of postpartum days.

If health care professionals can identify women who are at higher risk for postpartum depression before it hits, then early intervention can be possible. Some women find it difficult to admit they need help and do not seek it during the postpartum days. Doctors can reach out early and prepare mothers for possible depression if these hormones can be tested on a routine basis during pregnancy.

Postpartum depression is characterized by persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, exhaustion and anxiety. It typically begins four weeks after childbirth and can continue for weeks, months and possibly an entire year. It is estimated that 10 to 18 percent of all new moms develop this saddening condition. Women who were diagnosed with previous mood disorders are at a higher risk for postpartum depression.

For quite some time scientists have believed that the large decline of estrogen after childbirth was the main culprit of postpartum depression. However, more recent studies show that women who suffer from depression and women who do not experience depression have the same amount of estrogen levels after birth.

Different women experience postpartum depression for a variety of reasons, but if pregnant women and their doctors are more prepared for possible postpartum depression, it may be cured at a quicker pace.

If women suffer from depression during or after pregnancy, help should be sought immediately for the health and well-being of the baby and the mother. If left untreated, depression can have serious effects.

Alison Wood is a stay-at-home mom of six and freelance writer and blogger. She enjoys raising her six children and desires to share her experiences to help other mothers.

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