Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist and a board certified lactation consultant from the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Her work focuses on family violence and perinatal health.

Here are her thoughts on postpartum depression.

Historical perspective

  • Inflammation was once thought to be simply one of many risk factors for depression.
  • More recent research indicates that physical and psychological stress increases inflammation.
  • In fact, inflammation is not simply a risk factor; it’s the risk factor that underlies all the others.

The inflammation connection

Dr. Kendal-Tackett continues, “This is true for depression in general and for postpartum depression in particular. Puerperal [at the time of childbirth or shortly following] women are especially vulnerable to these effects because their levels of proinflammatory cytokines [regulatory proteins] significantly increase during the last trimester of pregnancy — a time when they are also at high risk for depression.”

“Moreover, common experiences of new motherhood, such as sleep disturbance, postpartum pain, and past or current psychological trauma, act as stressors that cause proinflammatory cytokine levels to rise.”

The bottom line?
The problem of depression around the time of childbirth is important. In one study, approximately 1 in 7 women had and were treated for depression during the 39 weeks before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and for 39 weeks after pregnancy.

Recent research suggests that reducing maternal stress and reducing inflammation is helpful. For example, says Dr. Kendal-Tackett, “breastfeeding [be careful to avoid nipple pain] and exercise reduce maternal stress and are protective of maternal mood.”

In addition, most current treatments for depression are anti-inflammatory. These include long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, cognitive therapy, St. John’s wort, and conventional antidepressants.

I’ll add one more, pram walking, which was discussed here earlier.

10/13/07 17:48 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.