Changes to an enzyme in the brains of women immediately having a baby may explain postpartum depression, a new study shows. The work, conducted by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, were published in the Archives of General Psychiatry and presented by the Max Planck Society.
In the study, researchers used an imaging technique to track levels of the enzyme, monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), in women’s brains immediately following childbirth. MAO-A levels were 43 percent higher in the women who had just had a baby compared to a control group consisting of women who either had children long ago or never had children.
The enzyme breaks down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for maintaining our “good moods.” If these neurotransmitters are deficient, we feel sadness, followed by the potential to become depressed.
“For most women, the birth of their baby is one of the most strenuous but also happiest days in their lives” wrote Julia Sacher, first author of the study, and her colleagues. “So it is very difficult to understand why almost three-quarters of all women feel down shortly after giving birth. They can suffer from extreme sadness, mood swings, anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and irritability.”
“Our results have the exciting potential for prevention for severe postpartum blues. This could have an impact on prevention and treatment of postpartum depression in the future.”