Study Seeks Connection Between Stress Hormones in the Placenta and Postpartum Depression

A study first presented May 21 at a conference of the American Psychiatric Association and later published in LiveScience is gaining attention. The new interest has arisen because the research appears to have an intriguing finding: predicting which women may suffer from postpartum depression. As always, with these types of studies, I believe it worthy to search deeper into conclusions and implications.

A research team led by Laura Glynn from Chapman University in Orange, CA, conducted a study to establish a connection between the corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH) of the placenta and a tendency for a pregnant woman to develop postpartum depression. (The placenta delivers food to the baby while still in the womb.)

Some 170 pregnant women who were in varying months of their pregnancies took part in the study. The level of placental hormone before giving birth was determined by blood tests, and after the women gave birth, the research team assessed their depression levels.

The team’s findings revealed that the women who had a high level of placental hormones during the twenty-fifth week of pregnancy were at risk of experiencing postpartum depression three months after giving birth.

Part of the reason for the interest and excitement with this study is that some believe by identifying women at risk, doctors can help ahead of time to better manage the likely depression.

But I believe caution is needed. After all, with 800,000 to 900,000 women a year in America experiencing postpartum depression (PPD), we need a repeat of the study and a larger sample size. Only sixteen women were diagnosed with PPD, not a very large number. I’m skeptical and would hope to see much larger numbers and other variables held constant to conclude we’ve discovered something to be excited about, or that elevated corticotropin-releasing hormone increases the risk of postpartum depression.

It’s also important to remember that the study showed an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between pCRH levels and postpartum depression. I agree with those who call for further research to determine exactly how this link might work.

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~ by ppdsus on June 15, 2013.

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