Depression. Mood swings. Sleeplessness. Excessive crying. For the nearly 20 percent of new moms who are dealing with postpartum depression (PPD), those early weeks with baby are anything but idyllic. And it's not just women who suffer—partners and babies also feel the effects.
To make matters worse, it's not always so easy to figure out who's at risk for developing PPD. Sure, there are some indicators, like lower levels of the hormone oxytocin and previous bouts of depression. However, for every woman who satisfies those requirements, there are many others who don't. For some new mamas, the serious illness seemingly hits without much rhyme or reason.
But as a team of researchers from the U.S. and England have discovered, there are markers, or proteins, in the blood that may signify whether you're at an increased risk of developing something more than just the "baby blues." Specifically, those markers are found in the oxytocin receptor gene. Oxytocin helps during childbirth, bonding with baby, regulating moods, and lowering stress levels.
Though it won't eliminate PPD, finding those markers in a blood test before you give birth can help you prepare for the swell of emotions that hit once baby arrives. "We can greatly improve the outcome of this disorder with the identification of markers, biological or otherwise, that can identify women who may be at risk for its development," Jessica Connelly, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and senior author of the study, said in a press release. "We know that women who have experienced depression before pregnancy are at higher risk of developing depression in the postpartum period. However, women who have never experienced depression also develop postpartum depression. These markers we identified may help to identify them, in advance."
The study appears in the current issue of the journal Frontiers in Genetics.
Though promising, these findings aren't necessarily written in stone—yet. In this study, scientists analyzed samples from a U.K.-based longitudinal study. Researchers say they'll need to reach a similar conclusion in other population-based samples before confirming. Still, if true, this news would arm women who are at risk of developing PPD with the knowledge they need.
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
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