Every year, approximately 3 million people in the U.S. experience feelings of extreme sadness and anxiety after childbirth, according to Mayo Clinic. Postpartum depression has nothing to do with not loving your child or not wanting to be a mom, and everything to do with your body’s hormones.

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A small but noteworthy new study published in the latest issue of Women’s Mental Health shows promising strides in early detection of postpartum depression so new moms can be treated sooner and more effectively.

The study, conducted at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, analyzed 66 healthy pregnant women who were not depressed. The scientists monitored the women, studying their hormone levels throughout their pregnancies and six weeks after giving birth.

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Of the 66 women, 13 experienced postpartum depression. The same 13 women all had higher oxytocin levels during their pregnancy. If this correlation is confirmed, moms-to-be could get help before their babies are even born. When doctors see oxytocin levels spike, they can implement a treatment plan to keep things more balanced.

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Oxytocin plays a big role throughout pregnancy, from triggering nurturing feelings to stimulating contractions during childbirth, according to Childbirth Connection.

While more research still needs to be done about how doctors can better monitor and keep oxytocin levels balanced, this study is a small but significant step in helping the one in seven new moms who experience postpartum depression. 

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