Is Postpartum Depression Genetic?

The sudden drop in progesterone after giving birth can lead to the ‘baby blues’ but could you have inherited it from your mother and what can you do about it?


We know women inherit many conditions from their mothers, some serious such as breast cancer or osteoporosis, others less life threatening such as bunions or a double chin, but we do owe a lot to our family health history.

The effect of stress

A new study that was recently published by Tufts University in the USA suggests that if a female is exposed to chronic social stress in her early life it may lead to her own female offspring having postpartum depression and anxiety.

You notice I said ‘female offspring’ and this is deliberate because this is early research done with rats by researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Certainly experience of serious stress can impair a mother’s ability to care for her children but the report indicates that it can also negatively impact her daughter’s ability to provide maternal care to future offspring.

This makes sense in that we learn our behaviour from our mothers so if she has not been able to parent her own child successfully it is a harder job for that child to become a good parent themselves.

In the study the rats had just given birth and responded to stress with depressed maternal care, impaired lactation, and increased anxiety. Once those pups were matured and the females then gave birth they were not subject to the same stress but they also displayed depressed maternal care, impaired lactation, and increased anxiety, just as their mothers had.

Just as you would find in humans, there were also changes to hormone levels: an increase in the stress hormone corticosterone, and decreases in oxytocin, prolactin (important to both maternal behavior and lactation) and estradiol.

What does this mean for women?

Post partum depression is a serious condition and for any woman with a family history of poor parenting, or a personal history of depression, taking positive action is essential.

During pregnancy the body produces very high levels of progesterone for the baby’s development and immediately on giving birth the levels drop dramatically. It is very effective to supplement with bioidentical natural progesterone to restore balance and avoid that sudden plunge.