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Postpartum Depression Health Center

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Low Oxytocin Linked to Postpartum Depression

Study Shows Higher Risk of Postpartum Depression for Pregnant Women With Low Levels of Oxytocin

Oxytocin and Risk of Postpartum Depression continued...

Overall, 14 women were determined to be at risk for postpartum depression based on their test scores. The risk of depression was not different between mothers who were breastfeeding and those who were not.

Lower oxytocin levels before birth were associated with a greater risk of postpartum depression.

“It may have some predictive value in terms of the mood state of the parent,” Leckman says.

Other experts found the study interesting, but said important caveats applied.

Previous studies, for example, have suggested that changing oxytocin levels may have the greatest impact on mood, but this study only measured the hormone once, says Curt A. Sandman, PhD, professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

“Also, there is an interest in sensitive periods during pregnancy when hormones may be particularly influential. This could not be assessed in this study,” Sandman says.

Additionally, Sandman says, two weeks after birth may be a bit soon to assess depression risk since it’s not uncommon for women to be moody as hormone levels readjust to pre-pregnancy levels.

Still, he tells WebMD, “There is a small literature about prenatal hormonal risk for PP [postpartum] depression and this adds to it and as such is a valuable contribution.”

The study is published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Many women experience a period of moodiness and stress after giving birth. If this doesn’t go away after a few weeks, however, experts say it’s important to seek help since children of depressed mothers are more likely to develop social and emotional problems of their own.

Signs of full-blown postpartum depression include lack of interest or negative feelings toward the baby, lack of self-concern, loss of pleasure, lack of energy or motivation, changes in appetite or weight, trouble sleeping, and thoughts of suicide.

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