Postpartum depression is something pregnant women and their partners worry about and with good reason; between 12 and 20 percent of women struggle with the disorder after having a child. New research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science shows it may be easier to prevent postpartum depression than we though. Women who get strong social support during their pregnancies are a lot less likely to see a spike in the hormone linked to postpartum depression (PPD) after giving birth.
Researchers worked with a sample of 210 pregnant women of different ethnicities and from varying socioeconomic statuses. They asked women questions about their happiness and the amount of support they received from family, friends and the child’s father at 19, 29 and 37 weeks in their pregnancy. Doctors also took blood samples to detect the levels of the stress hormone placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH) which is released from the placenta during pregnancy.
What they found was women who received support from families, friends and partners during pregnancy reported far fewer depressive symptoms and also had lower levels of pCRH. Hormone levels during the third trimester were most important in determining risk of PPD. Though pCRH typically increases in women during the last trimester, a dramatic increase leads to more severe postpartum depression. Receiving social support can dampen stress hormone levels and lower levels mean happier mothers.
Where do fathers fit into the picture? Researchers didn’t find a relationship between stress hormone levels and fathers’ involvement; these changes had more to do with support from family members. However, active, attentive daddies-to-be tend to encourage pregnant women to keep up with healthy habits that keep them (and baby) healthier and happier.
Sharp increases in pCRH have been associated with preterm births, so it’s especially important women get the support they need and families gather around mom and the baby who’s on his way.