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I was pretty ornery when my second child was born, which may be why my husband didn’t linger lovingly at my bedside for too long (that and he had to take care of our 2-year-old daughter). In any case, I was alone for the night -- but my roommate wasn’t. Though separated by a curtain, I could hear that a huge crowd had gathered in her room, and with each Mazel tov, I sank lower and lower, and before I knew it I was bawling quietly to myself. I felt even worse when the nurse came in and caught a glimpse of me crying. Later on, I realized that my sad state has a label: postpartum blues.
An estimated 70 percent of women experience postpartum blues (a.k.a. "baby blues") right after they give birth, and 13 percent suffer from the more severe, lingering sadness known as postpartum depression. Developing the baby blues is a major risk factor for postpartum depression. Researchers have long known that plummeting estrogen right after birth plays some role in the depression, but that didn’t fully explain it (especially since in some women, depression doesn’t hit for several weeks, long after estrogen has stabilized) until now.
New research from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig has identified a brain chemical that may be at play. The study found that levels of a specific enzyme (monoamine oxidase A, or MAO-A) increase dramatically right after giving birth. This enzyme breaks down key mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. With less of these happy chemicals, we crash.
Though the findings are preliminary, the researchers said that they could eventually lead to medications that could prevent that crash. And by preventing those baby blues, they may be able to stave off postpartum depression.
In the meantime, if you’re pregnant, be sure read up on baby blues so you’re not blindsided if it happens (and if it does, you're normal!) It might not prevent the blues, but it can help you feel less crazy if they hit.
Did you suffer from the baby blues? If so, how did you cope? Chime in below!