The Role Of Oxytocin In Postnatal Depression

Role Of Oxytocin

Role of oxytocin in postnatal depression: Parenting is a daunting task for any mother, especially when she’s already coping with postnatal depression, a condition that could produce negative effects on child outcomes. As a possible intervention, recent studies have begun to focus on the hormone oxytocin, and preliminary data on its possible role in managing the condition.

Role Of Oxytocin: The Need For Interventions

Postnatal depression commonly affects about 10 to 20 percent of all mothers. Children under the care of such mothers are at an increased risk of negative outcomes, including psychiatric disorders and developmental problems.

Postnatal depression clearly leads to poor parenting behaviors, as stated by 33 studies. “As opposed to non-depressed controls, the interaction between mothers with postnatal depression and their infants lacks optimum sensitivity and is less competent. They are often less likely to opt for recommended practical parenting strategies”, report researchers.

According to a research review by Beth L. Mah, PhD, of Mothers and Babies Research Centre, Hunter Medical Research Institute, in New Lambton Heights, NSW, Australia, interventions for mothers dealing with postnatal depression can significantly improve parenting behaviors. Moreover, hormone therapy using oxytocin could play an important role in such treatment strategies, even though further research is still required to define possible risks and benefits.

Research Reviews: Establishing The Role Of Oxytocin In Treating Postnatal Depression

Data from several studies dealing with improving parenting behaviors of mothers with postnatal depression has been reviewed in the January/February issue of Harvard Review of Psychiatry, a journal published by Wolters Kluwer. The studies varied in terms of the type of treatment administered and the assessment of the results.

Oxytocin is a hormone involved in the vital processes of labor and breastfeeding. Apart from these well-known functions, it also seems to play a role in parenting. In 13 studies, higher levels of oxytocin were associated with parental behaviors that promoted mother-child bonding. This For instance, an increase in the level of oxytocin was recorded in mothers after affectionate contact with their infants.

The Role Of Oxytocin In Treating Postnatal Depression

Such findings suggest that treatment with oxytocin could possibly influence parenting behaviors in mothers dealing with postnatal depression. To further confirm such a hypothesis, two studies have reported that women with lower levels of oxytocin during pregnancy had higher scores for symptoms of depression.

However, two randomized trials of oxytocin treatment which included women with dysfunctional labor and postnatal depression respectively, reported an increase in depressive symptoms after treatment with oxytocin.

Coming To A Possible Conclusion: Future Prospects

Hence, findings seem to provide divergent results: women with naturally higher levels of oxytocin had better moods yet administering oxytocin to them causes their moods to deteriorate. “Oxytocin could be potentially useful for improving parental behaviors of mothers dealing with postnatal depression”, states DrMah, “but further research is needed to establish its safety due to the uncertain impact of oxytocin on maternal mood”.

DrMah highlighted the need for further research on the subject, as well as the need for higher-quality data depicting how postnatal depression influences parenting behaviors. She also stressed on the development of better tools for diagnosing postnatal depression, assessing parenting behaviors and measuring oxytocin levels.

“Perhaps the most significant challenge is to establish whether oxytocin could be used as an adjunctive treatment in improving mother-infant relationships affected by postnatal depression or other psychiatric conditions”, DrMah concluded.