Is Postpartum Depression Genetic?

The New York Times recently printed an article called “Hunting the Genetic Signs of Postpartum Depression with an iPhone App“. The article explores the idea that there may be genetic markers in women who have postpartum depression. Essentially the University of North Carolina will be conducting the study by collecting data from women who have recently had a child, via their iPhones. The data will allow the researchers to ascertain if a woman is struggling with postpartum depression. Once they’ve identified the signals, a DNA kit is sent to the women so that the researchers can look at the genetic data from the women and compare it to women who have had two children and don’t suffer from postpartum depression.

What an interesting idea. The article goes on to describe theories as to why there might not be a genetic implication, but I for one am just thrilled that people are studying postpartum depression. Throughout my journey, I found our mental health screening and resources to be completely inadequate so I am delighted with any types of studies.

One thing that caught my eye was Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, featured prominently in the article. Dr. Meltzer-Brody is the director of the University of North Carolina’s perinatal psychiatry program. Perinatal psychiatry program? Fascinating.

I googled UNC’s program and found out that they have an inpatient unit dedicated to the care of women with severe postpartum depression. They have five beds, allow infants in the unit at all times, except for night to protect sleep for women. This unique set-up was created because if women had to be hospitalized for postpartum depression, typical psychiatric wards didn’t allow the women to have access to their babies. This could be detrimental to the bonding process.

What a concept.

How great of a resource would that be for women who are at risk for harming themselves or their babies? I’ll admit, I saw the words “protected sleep times” and was like…they get me.

We’ll see what the research from the iPhone app reveals. I’ll be curious to see if there is a genetic link. My mother didn’t suffer from postpartum depression, but I don’t know about the rest of the women in my extended family. I suspect that not all postpartum depression is genetic, but my guess would be that many women who suffer from it have some type of genetic marker that makes them vulnerable to mood disorders. That vulnerability could be triggered by the fluctuating hormones.

I’ve talked before about how I think breastfeeding contributed to my postpartum depression. Once the prolactin was out of my body – I felt like a completely different person. I suspect that my poor body couldn’t handle the super high levels of estrogen during pregnancy (hence causing my prenatal depression) or the super low levels of estrogen (hence the almost overnight change in my mood, once my estrogen levels started going up.

Perhaps all of these chemical theories are rooted in reality – and maybe there’s something related to genetics.

Isn’t science and technology incredible?

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

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