Expectant Mothers More Likely to Suffer from Depression if Stressed While Pregnant
Benedetta Leuner, assistant professor psychology, is lead author of a new study demonstrating that chronic stress during pregnancy prevents brain benefits of motherhood in rats, a finding that suggests a link to postpartum depression. The study found chronic stress negated the brain benefits of motherhood, causing the stressed rats' brains to match brain characteristics of animals that had no reproductive or maternal experience.
"Animal mothers in our research that are unstressed show an increase in the number of connections between neurons. Stressed mothers don't," Leuner said. "We think that makes the stressed mothers more vulnerable. They don't have the capacity for brain plasticity that the unstressed mothers do, and somehow that's contributing to their susceptibility to depression."
Professor Leuner described the research during a talk in New Orleans at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
She said postpartum depression was a devastating condition and understanding it better may help prevent some of its damaging effects.
“It's devastating not only for the mother, because it affects her well-being, but previous research also has shown that children of depressed mothers have impaired cognitive and social development, may have impaired physical development, and are more likely as adults to have depression or anxiety,” Leuner said. “A better understanding of postpartum depression is important to help the mother but also to prevent some of the damaging effects that this disorder can have on the child.”
Read the entire press release, courtesy of Emily Caldwell, assistant director, Research and Innovation Communications, http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/pregstress.htm