Regulation of anxiety during the postpartum period

Front Neuroendocrinol. Aug-Sep 2007;28(2-3):115-41. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2007.05.002. Epub 2007 Jun 2.


Healthy mother-infant interactions are critical for the physical, cognitive, and psychological development of offspring. Such interactions rely on numerous factors, including a positive maternal emotional state. However, many postpartum women experience emotional dysregulation, often involving elevated anxiety. Neuroendocrine factors contributing to the onset of postpartum anxiety symptoms are mostly unknown, but irregularities in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, reduced prolactin and oxytocin signaling, or parturitional withdrawal of ovarian, placental and neural steroids could contribute to anxiety in susceptible women. Although the causes of initial onset are unclear, postpartum anxiety can be mitigated by recent contact with infants. Numerous neurochemical systems, including oxytocin, prolactin, GABA, and norepinephrine mediate this anxiolytic effect of infant contact. Insight into the etiology of postpartum anxiety disorders, and how contact with infants helps counter existing anxiety dysregulation, will surely facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of postpartum women at risk for, or experiencing, an anxiety disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior* / physiology
  • Maternal Behavior* / psychology
  • Neurochemistry
  • Postpartum Period / psychology*
  • Pregnancy