Postpartum depression can affect any new mother, no matter her previous history of depression or number of previous childbirths. However, researchers have now uncovered that a certain segment of the female population may be genetically more at risk for this disease.
Scientists have known about the importance of the oxytocin receptor for a while. Low levels of the hormone oxytocin are associated with PPD. High levels are associated with lower stress, healthy births and greater maternal bonding. From this starting point, researchers at the University of Virginia decided to expand upon the oxytocin connection.
From their study, they discovered a relationship between epigenetic and genetic markers of the oxytocin receptor. Using these blood markers, researchers found a way to use biology to detect increased risk of PPD.
"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," said Jessica Connelly, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virgina.
Before the study, methods of prediction came largely from previous history of depression and recent stressful experiences, like pregnancy complications or financial problems. Now, doctors can identify the disease more quickly and therefore start treatment sooner.
The researchers at University of Virginia hope further studies will be conducted to confirm and expand upon this recent discovery.