I’ve linked before to this article that speculates that women with low oxytocin levels may experience depression associated with weaning from breastfeeding. Specifically, previous studies have suggested that women who have naturally low levels of oxytocin will suffer from depression.
That made sense to me. When you breastfeed, your body is supposed to release oxytocin, which is intended to act as a mild antidepressant and serve as a bonding hormone between mother and baby. Oxytocin is a fascinating hormone. It serves as one part of the hormones required to stimulate love, attraction and monogamy. It plays a critical role in orgasm for both sexes.
A new study out of Northwestern suggests that women with a past history of depression and high level of oxytocin may have a higher chance of having postpartum depression. This is interesting, because everything I’ve read to date suggests that lower levels of oxytocin contribute to depression. Perhaps what we’re getting to is that it isn’t women with low or high oxytocin that are vulnerable, but rather the women who have malfunctioning oxytocin receptors are vulnerable.
I’ll mention that the Northwestern study is extremely small – only 66 women were looked at. Additionally, for a study to be relevant, it has to be duplicated. We have to look at the body of evidence, not just one study. So I’m hoping that future studies will look at this anomaly to attempt to peg down biomarkers or genetic markers for postpartum depression.
It would be incredible if we could get to a point where a simple blood test can indicate if a woman is susceptible to postpartum depression. Armed with that knowledge and with a boosted mental health system, perhaps we can reduce the suffering of so many women.