A big step in finding a cure for postpartum depression

Posted on August 1, 2008. Filed under: childbirth, children, depression, maternal health, medical research, medicine, news, postpartum depression, pregnancy, science, women, women's health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Scientists have discovered a mechanism in the brains of mice that would definitely help in finding a much improved method to treat postpartum depression in human mothers. Read this article from the Science Daily for more information.

Image: http://www.hiddenepidemic.com

To put it briefly, the level of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone fluctuates during pregnancy and childbirth, though it was not clear how it affects the behaviour. The researchers found evidence that led them to believe that the hormones affect the mood through the brain’s neurotransmitter system called GABA. They discovered that a receptor subunit of GABA fluctuated in the brains of female mice during and after pregnancy. To test the theory of a possible link between the subunit and the hormones, they used genetically modified mice that lack the gene for that particular subunit. After giving birth, the female mice exhibited behaviour similar to that of human mothers who suffer from depression after childbirth. By administering a drug (THIP – a hypnotic and antinociceptive drug that can restore the functioning of the receptor), the behaviour of the mice showed marked improvement. The scientists concluded that the GABA system’s ability to adapt to the fluctuating hormone levels depended on the proper functioning of the subunit, at least in mice.

About 15-25% of human mothers (especially those who give birth for the first time) are believed to suffer from some form of postpartum depression. In extreme cases, it may also lead to the mother harming her own child. Women’s health is a very complex issue and the health and well-being of mothers is usually neglected during and after childbirth. This discovery would surely help in finding new and better treatments for postpartum depression.

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4 Responses to “A big step in finding a cure for postpartum depression”

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Having experience this problem to some degree myself, I have something to add. Modern society (at least in the West) does not prepare young mothers for parenthood. In the West, few grandparents are even in the same city, much less available for babysitting. I think what causes postpartum depression in a lot of mothers is going from being a successful career woman to stay-at-home mother, without having been taught the skills of how to take care of a baby, yet manage a household at the same time (in addition to being extremely sleep-deprived, and no one to help look after the baby).

You cannot imagine how incompetent it makes one feel to have your husband come home at the end of the day and have the entire house a mess, even though you have worked all day (yet you’d never know it). When you were formerly competent at a job, this makes mothers feel extremely incompetent and wonder “if they are loosing it,” or “if they are going crazy,” or if they will EVER become competent again!

What helped me was when I got a maid (not to do work, but to LOOK AFTER THE BABY while I got a nap of a couple hours)–babysitters don’t exist in my Middle Eastern country. It also helped me when I got a part-time job teaching just a couple hours a week. It got me out of the house, talking to other people, and I felt a lot better!

Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

Good article but its not just the hormones that affect the mental status of the mother post partum.. other enviornmental factors like reduction in libido, body changes, sleep less nights, less support from the spouse and family trigger them too!


Thanks a lot for your comment! Young mothers in the West do face a lot of difficulties 😦

In India, motherhood is often thrust upon unprepared women as the men feel that women are “child-bearing machines” who must perform their duty in a patriarchal society and have atleast one (preferably male) child. But the blame does not lie only with the men who have such a stupid attitude towards women. The older women also feel that a woman is not “complete” until she gives birth to a (preferably male) child atleast once in her lifetime. As you can see, women in India have a long way to go before they can achieve equality but they are definitely treated much better than their unfortunate sisters in many Middle-Eastern countries (except in certain backward places where women are treated like dirt 😡 ).

The joint family system was a big boon to working mothers in India as grandmothers and aunts would help by taking care of the child when the mother was at work. But now, in urban India, nuclear families where both the husband and wife work are the norm. Young mothers do face a lot of difficulty in such a scenario 😦 Though maids (both full-time and part-time) are available, working mothers still feel bad as they are not able to devote enough time to either their children or their career. Day care centres and crèches at the workplace are slowly becoming popular.

Thanks for sharing the perspective of a doctor (and mother) on this issue! I agree that a lot of factors are involved in triggering depression in mothers 😦

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