I was in the middle of treatments for long-term chronic depression when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I was on a cocktail of medications that were highly effective, yet not proven safe for my developing baby. Immediately, my doctor switched me to Citalopram and closely monitored both my mental state and my baby's development for the duration of my pregnancy. Nine months later, our son Isaac was born: He was healthy and I was happy.
New research from Ohio State University suggests the reason why I managed to avoid postpartum depression may be linked to the specific antidepressant I was prescribed at the time of my pregnancy. "We saw that Citalopram was effective in improving mood in stressed mothers and completely reversed the stress effects in areas of the brain," says Achikam Haim, lead author and student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Ohio State University.
Scientists compared the brains of rats that had been chronically stressed during pregnancy and discovered that the select few who has been administered Citalopram for three weeks during pregnancy had a more complex brain structure. The area of the brain responsible for care-giving acts was intact, which was not the case for rats that did not receive medication. It's an important step into discovering what may ultimately cause postpartum depression.
"We have a suspicion that stress during pregnancy is somehow altering the reward system in the brain, making these depressed mothers less rewarded by their offspring and less motivated to care for them," explains Benedetta Leuner, associate professor and senior author of the study. "It's possible that the effects of stress on the brain circuit regulating reward can lead to these symptoms."
Read more: Parenting through severe depression>
Of course, this isn't to say that all stressed-out moms-to-be should be rushed to their doctors and be medicated. However, it does bring awareness to the role of maternal care during pregnancy. Completely avoiding stress isn't realistic (or healthy), but taking steps to reduce the amount of stress and making self care a priority is key. Be sure to include your mental health as part of your prenatal checkups, moms-to-be!
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