Florida Atlantic University researchers are looking at postpartum depression, studying how a mother’s levels of a key hormone may be affected by the mental illness.
The Palm Beach Post delved into the issue of postpartum last October when profiling documentary filmmaker Jennifer Silliman and her film “The Dark Side of a Full Moon.”
The goal of the study by the Boca Raton-based university is to look at how breast-feeding, oxytocin and face-to-face interactions between a mother and her baby are impacted by depression and the mother’s level of hormone oxytocin.
“We already know that pregnancy escalates oxytocin levels and that breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which have anti-depressive effects,” said Nancy Aaron Jones, director of the FAU WAVES Emotion Laboratory located on the John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter.
“In this new study, we are looking at oxytocin levels in pre- and postpartum mothers who suffer from depression to see how they differ from mothers who don’t have depression. Another novel aspect of the study is that we also are examining the oxytocin levels of the infant once they are born and how these levels change across development.”
Researchers are trying to understand how levels of oxytocin affect the mother-infant emotional relationship as well as the baby’s emotional development and their emotional bond with their mother.
Maternal mental illness is more common than previously thought, estimating that approximately 10 to 20 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression.
The study has enrolled close to 50 participants with plans to increase that number to approximately 250.
“If depression in mothers-to-be is not addressed and treated, these mood disorders can negatively impact the child’s well-being and the important mother-child bonding process,” Jones said
“So many women don’t want to talk about depression in pregnancy or postpartum because they think that it’s saying something about their inability to parent, and it’s not.”