One Thing that Could Make You More Likely to Have Postpartum Depression: BDNF

There is still a lot that we don't know about postpartum depression. What exactly causes it, why do some women get it more than others, and what is the best way to treat it? I have had postpartum depression with one of my four kids but escaped it the other times. What made the difference? Is it a mixture of internal and external factors, like brain chemistry and after-birth support?

Most likely, there are many different aspects that come into play when it comes to postpartum depression. Some women have depression before their pregnancies that continues after pregnancy. Others may have traumatic or difficult pregnancies that can trigger it. And still others seem to develop the disorder with no noticeable “cause.” 

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But now a new study has found that there may be at least one link in the brain to postpartum depression. Knowing what the link is could help identify women who are more at risk for the mental health condition. 

This study was done by researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. They found that a certain protein in the brain may be more common in women who have postpartum depression. Research led them to a certain protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF for short, which declined naturally from early to late pregnancy, causing a wide range of issues.

Although the decline is normal, women who had steeper declines of the protein also had a greater risk of developing depression late in their pregnancy. Women with a sharp decline in BDNF also were more at risk for developing babies who had low birth weights, which is associated with complications such as feeding complications and even breathing issues for the baby. 

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The researchers explain that the BDNF protein actually helps regulate moods in every human. But in pregnant women, it's also essential for helping form and regulate the placenta, as well as playing a vital role in the baby's brain development. 

Doctors can't say for sure if a low BDNF protein will cause postpartum depression or low birth weight in the baby. But knowing that there is an association can help them treat pregnant women better and be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of depression. It's also helpful for women to be aware of things they can do to raise their BDNF protein levels. 

Exercise, for example, is a natural way to boost BDNF protein levels and help stabilize the mood. It also helps get blood and oxygen to the baby to help him or her grow. And talking with your doctor about your mental health history, any changes, and discussing how medication might help is also key. 

“Antidepressant medications have been shown to increase BDNF levels,” explained the study's lead author, Lisa Christian, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry. “This may be appropriate for some pregnant women, but is not without potential risks and side effects.”

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The more we understand about postpartum depression, the more we will hopefully be able to alleviate the condition. And in the meantime, be aware. Know your risks, and talk with family or a partner if you have one to help you identify the symptoms after your baby is born. 

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One Thing that Could Make You More Likely to Have Postpartum Depression: BDNF

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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