Higher oxytocin levels in the third trimester of pregnancy predicts the severity of postpartum depression symptoms in women who previously suffered from depression, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.
The small study of 66 women indicates the potential for finding biomarkers to predict depressive symptoms postpartum.
“It’s not ready to become a new blood test yet,” stressed lead investigator Dr. Suena Massey, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine psychiatrist. “But it tells us that we are on the track to identifying biomarkers to help predict postpartum depression.”
The link between depressive symptoms and higher level of oxytocin surprised Massey. She had expected it to be associated with lower oxytocin.
“There’s emerging research that a past history of depression can change the oxytocin receptor in such a way that it becomes less efficient,” Massey said. “Perhaps, when women are starting to experience early signs of depression, their bodies release more oxytocin to combat it.”
The paper was published March 8 in Archives of Women’s Mental Health.
Scientists recruited 66 pregnant healthy women who were not depressed. They measured oxytocin levels in the third trimester and depression symptoms six weeks postpartum. Of that group, 13 of the women had a prior history of depression before the pregnancy. Among these women, the higher their oxytocin levels, the more depressive symptoms they experienced at six weeks.
Symptoms included waking up too early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep, more worrying or anxiety, more aches and pains, headaches, changes in bowel patterns, feeling tired or a sense of heaviness, changes in appetite and feeling sad.
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