Would you believe that, each year in the United States, more people suffer from postpartum depression than they do strokes, or even heart attacks? The numbers are so high—roughly 950,000 new moms every year—and the effects so heart-wrenching that science is scrambling to the rescue. A new study, published this summer in the medical journal Frontiers in Genetics, suggests researchers are well on their way to identifying the women most at risk.
The medical field has long touted the important role the hormone oxytocin plays in everything from safe childbirth to maternal bonding to stress relief. Understanding this correlation, researchers posited that the oxytocin receptor may also have critical involvement. The team then used this gene to establish a relationship between genetic and epigenetic markers that increase a new mom’s risk for this postnatal disorder.
Why this matters
While women with a history of depression are at greater risk, PPD can strike any new mom—and the results are serious and potentially long-lasting. While treatable, PPD affects the way mothers bond with their new babies, and it may even increase an infant’s risk for poor development—behaviorally, cognitively, and socially. It can affect new moms days or even months after their child’s birth. PPD can color a new mom’s everyday experience and increase feelings of sadness, anxiety, and irritability. When the first months of motherhood are so joyous for many, moms with PPD are often left feeling inadequate, ashamed, and guilty. But now this new research offers hope.
“We can greatly improve the outcome of this disorder with the identification of markers that can [determine] women who may be at risk for its development,” said senior author Jessica Connelly in a public statement.
While the researchers conclude that their work is far from over, they remain hopeful that their findings will inform future studies—and ultimately begin benefitting the public.
Just think, one day, pregnant women may determine their risk for PPD with a simple blood draw at a prenatal appointment. Then, those at risk can start on their journey to healing, making for a happier and healthier new mom experience.