Most women get a bout of the "baby blues" after giving birth because of the huge changes in hormone levels, but this soon goes away. However, for about 1 in 7 new moms, this can turn into postnatal depression (PND; also known as postpartum depression or PPD). A blood test could pick out the women who are most at risk, meaning that they and their families could get the support and treatment they need at a very vulnerable time.
A team at Warwick Medical School in the U.K. followed 200 pregnant women and assessed their depression scores while pregnant and then two to 8 weeks after giving birth. They found SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms--changes in a single letter in the genetic code) in two genes linked with the part of the endocrine system that responds to stress. The researchers plan to carry out further studies in women from Coventry, Birmingham, and London.
Postnatal depression can affect how new moms bond with their babies, and how much they play with and talk to the babies, which can affect children's learning and emotions long-term. The screening used at the moment only looks at symptoms once the depression has started.
"We believe that we have made a discovery with important clinical and social implications. If we can identify women likely to suffer from postnatal depression in advance so that they can be treated appropriately and at an early stage, we will have improved the lives not just of the parents, but also of their children," said professor Dimitris Grammatopoulos of the University of Warwick.
Treatments for postnatal depression include hormone therapy, antidepressants, and support and counseling.