Postpartum Depression

Learn About Postpartum Depression

While pregnancy and successful childbirth are some of the happier moments in life, a certain number of women develop symptoms of depression during this time. If the symptoms are mild and develop immediately after the birth of the child, they are usually self-limiting; a cluster of such findings is often called “baby blues.” However, when symptoms of depression are severe, and develop both prior to childbirth or for up to twelve months after the birth, medical evaluation and treatment become necessary to help restore the health of the mother as well as help the growth and development of the child. This latter illness is called post-partum depression. [There is no universally accepted definition of the post-partum time span, but one year is accepted by most authorities.]

In the United States, the prevalence of post-partum depression is approximately 9%, with slightly higher percentages in other countries around the world, depending upon the socio-economic status of the population. About 50% of cases develop the severe depressive symptoms during and immediately before the pregnancy, with the majority of the rest developing symptoms during the first four post-partum months.

Several studies indicate that hereditary factors are likely responsible for the development of the illness, at least in some individuals. This first became evident with review of family histories, where it was found in both past and present female family members. Of particular note was a strong association of the illness between sisters.

Pregnancy is a time of great fluctuation in the hormonal levels in a woman’s body. This is true not only with regard to the gonadal hormones, estrogen and progesterone, but also with regard to cortisol and thyroid hormones, as well as oxytocin. Furthermore, there are reductions in neurotransmitter levels, mainly dopamine and serotonin, within the brain. Both of these neurotransmitters are felt to play key roles in the development of major depressive states in adults.

The symptoms of post-partum depression as well as those of other adult depressive states are similar, with the former of course developing around pregnancy, and also significantly affecting the newborn in several ways. While both breast feeding and bonding are initially affected, abnormal growth and development result lead to impaired psychological and cognitive development.

Satisfactory treatment of post-partum depression remains an unmet medical need. Northstar Medical Research hopes that with implementation of this new protocol study, we will be able to help produce this change.

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