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Stress hormone foreshadows postpartum depression in new mothers
Date:3/4/2013

Women who receive strong social support from their families during pregnancy appear to be protected from sharp increases in a particular stress hormone, making them less likely to develop postpartum depression, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Now we have some clue as to how support might 'get under the skin' in pregnancy, dampening down a mother's stress hormone, and thereby helping to reduce her risk for postpartum depression," said Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, a UCLA National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral scholar in psychology and fellow at UCLA's Institute of Society and Genetics, and lead author of the research.

The scientists recruited 210 pregnant women of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, surveying them three times during pregnancy at 19, 29, and 37 weeks and eight weeks after giving birth. The women were asked in interviews about how much support they received from their families and from the father of the child, and about their symptoms of depression. In addition, blood samples from each participant were analyzed to assess levels of placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH), a stress hormone released from the placenta.

After taking factors such as age, education, and income into account, Hahn-Holbrook and her colleagues discovered that pregnant women who reported the greatest support from their families seemed to have relatively lower levels of depressive symptoms. They also had the least dramatic increases in pCRH and the lowest absolute levels of pCRH in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Additional analyses revealed that pCRH levels in the third trimester fully explained the relationship between family support in pregnancy and postpartum depression symptoms.

These results are consistent with the conclusion that social support protects against abnormal pCRH increases and
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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