The joy of a new baby can often be met with the onset of postpartum depression for mothers, but new research published reveals a blood marker that could identify those most at risk.

Sufferers from postpartum depression can feel isolated from their baby.Share on Pinterest
Postpartum depression can affect 1 in 7 mothers in the US, according to a 2013 study.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression that affects some women after they have given birth.

According to the American Psychological Association, around 9-16% of American women who have given birth will experience PPD, while the risk of PPD may rise to 41% for women who had the condition in a previous pregnancy.

Symptoms of PPD mirror that of depression, but mothers will also develop negative feeling toward one’s own baby, which can include:

  • Feeling numb and disconnected from your baby
  • Irrational fears about your baby and his/her wellbeing
  • A constant worry that you will somehow harm the baby
  • A feeling of guilt that you cannot take care of your baby.

Researchers in the past have identified the hormone oxytocin to be critical in the development of a healthy birth, maternal bonding, lower stress levels and mood regulation. Oxytocin is made in the brain and is sometimes known as the “love hormone” due to its effects.

A study earlier this year revealed how the hormone increases the process of social information in mice, prompting mothers to respond to their pups distress calls.

Mothers who suffer from PPD have been associated with having a lower level of oxytocin. Like depression, PPD can be difficult to diagnose if the sufferer is hiding one’s symptoms, but a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics has found a new marker in the blood to help identify those most at risk.

Senior author Prof. Jessica Connelly, from the University of Virginia, worked together with teams from several institutions in the US and England to examine 545 mothers, of whom 269 had cases of PPD and 276 did not.

Researchers hypothesized the oxytocin receptor to play a role, given the importance of the hormone in developing maternal behavior.

They identified a relationship between the genetic and epigenetic markers in oxytocin, which increases the risk of postpartum depression.

Prof. Connelly says the findings will aid in the treatment of PPD. She explains:

“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.”

Prof. Connelly also hopes the research will aid women who have never experienced depression before, as they are also at risk.

The authors of the study emphasized the results are only the first step in developing further knowledge of PPD, and the findings should now be replicated to other population-based samples. First author Aleeca Bell, of the University of Illinois, says:

“Our data needs to be replicated, but it is our hope that the oxytocin receptor marker we have identified will be useful to clinicians in identifying women at risk.”

The disorder is most commonly treated with a combination of antidepressant drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Last year, Medical News Today reported on the most commonly prescribed drug, citalopram, and why it is effective at treating PPD. In severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ET) is utilized as a last resort if all other options have failed.