Low Oxytocin Linked to Postpartum Depression

June 28, 2011

A recent study demonstrated that pregnant women with low oxytocin have a higher risk of postpartum depression. This should come as a surprise to no one. Studies have already demonstrated that low oxytocin release inhibits happy parenting. High oxytocin the opposite. Young non depressed fathers given oxytocin spray seem happier and are more likely to encourage their children to explore during playtime and are less likely to be hostile, compared to fathers given an oxytocin placebo. Mothers with higher oxytocin levels are less likely to be depressed adn more likely to coo to their babies in a playful voice, a speech scientists call “motherese.” High oxytocin mothers smile more at their babies and are more flexible to changes in its moods. The additional touching, looking into the eyes, lullaby’s releases even more oxytocin in both mother, father and child. Parents that look into each other’s eyes release more oxytocin. A test for parents with low oxytocin may one day help to identify mothers and fathers at risk for depression.

Mechanics of oxytocin and depression.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has taught us that oxytocin works at the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor site. Serotonin, probably our most well understood feel-good anti depressant neurotransmitter, is found in great density in the amygdala The amygdala is the seat of all negative memories, fears and anxieties. Increased oxytocin in the amygdala triggers serotonin which decreases blood pressure, heart rate, mitigates aggression and promotes calm behavior. Clearly, oxytocin and serotonin have a quid pro quo relationship that can bring faster relief from depression and greater efficacy to any SSRI based antidepressant protocol. Oxytocin is the perfect adjunct to any depression protocol.