John Hopkins researchers have uncovered specific chemical alterations in two genes that, when present during pregnancy, reliably predict whether a woman will develop postpartum depression. This is a small study but if it can be replicated on a larger scale that would mean great news for pregnant moms. We already ask that doctors screen pregnant women by asking about risk factors such as prior or family history of mood disorders, current stressful situations or relationships but it is much easier (and therefore more likely that doctors have time to do it) if it is added to the standard battery of blood tests doctors already give pregnant women.
If we can more easily identify women who have a high risk for PPD, then we provide the new mom with support and education about effective treatments while she is still pregnant and hopefully get help started immediately following birth to reduce the depression’s severity or length. This will also help normalize the experience (research has shown that 10 – 20% of new moms experience PPD) and women won’t feel that it something that they are doing wrong or feel guilt about not enjoying new motherhood. We mustn’t start viewing PPD as only due to genetics though. We must also recognize the impact stressors i.e. lack of support, loneliness, financial and environmental stress or trauma have on PPD. This is a very small study but the researchers say they hope to move to the next step to collect blood samples from a larger group of pregnant women and follow them for a longer period of time.