The cause of postpartum depression found at last
Many new moms suffer postpartum depression, which can be very dangerous for them and the newborn. Postpartum depression usually involves severe mood swings, anxiety, and self-doubt in caring for the child, which may lead to suicidal thoughts. In fact, about 20% of maternal deaths after childbirth are from suicide. Sadly, the cause of postpartum depression remained unknown until now.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that occurs after childbirth. The mother falls into an extreme state of sadness, despair, self-doubt, anxiety, and difficulty bonding with the baby. On the other hand, postpartum depression can hamper the cognitive, social, and emotional development of the newborn.
Postpartum depression affects up to 20% of new mothers, making it a matter of serious concern.
But postpartum depression isn't just a feeling of worry over the big life transition or whether you can care for your baby. And neither is it a flaw or weakness. It goes beyond all of that.
Is postpartum depression the same as baby blues?
Postpartum depression is not the same as "baby blues"; it's more severe and longer-term.
Symptoms of baby blues include:
- Mood swings
- Sleeping and eating problems
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, and worthlessness
- Difficulty thinking or focusing
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts of harming your baby
- Loss of interest in the things you once enjoyed
What causes postpartum depression?
Experts have always thought the risk factors for postpartum depression are the mother's age, diabetes, and history of mental illness. But a new study has found that the cause of postpartum depression is strongly linked to a deficiency in the body's ability to get rid of old genetic material and cellular debris (autophagy).
Autophagy (the cleaning up of cells and old proteins) is a crucial process in our bodies. The researchers found that autophagy was impaired in new mothers who suffered postpartum depression -- their cells weren't cleaning out cellular debris and old proteins.
In essence, postpartum depression might have nothing to do with whether the mother feels frightened by the responsibility of her new status. Instead, the cause of postpartum depression could be entirely biological.
Thankfully, there are several medications that promote autophagy in cells. So if autophagy causes postpartum depression, affected mothers can be given proper and targeted treatments. No guesswork.
The discovery was made by Jennifer L. Payne, MD., from the University of Virginia Health System and her collaborations at John Hopkins Medicine and Cornell Medicine.
It's known that a deficiency in autophagy can cause changes in the brain that may lead to depression.
A new type of communication known as extracellular RNA communication has just recently been discovered. Furthermore, this communication was found to increase during pregnancy. Therefore, Payne and her colleagues wanted to determine whether this cellular communication contributes to postpartum depression.
Through blood samples, the researchers realized that extracellular RNA communication was extensively altered in women suffering from postpartum depression. The alteration prevented their bodies from cleaning up cellular debris, causing depression.