Postpartum depression: Etiology, treatment and consequences for maternal care

Horm Behav. 2016 Jan:77:153-66. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.08.008. Epub 2015 Aug 28.


This article is part of a Special Issue "Parental Care". Pregnancy and postpartum are associated with dramatic alterations in steroid and peptide hormones which alter the mothers' hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) and hypothalamic pituitary gonadal (HPG) axes. Dysregulations in these endocrine axes are related to mood disorders and as such it should not come as a major surprise that pregnancy and the postpartum period can have profound effects on maternal mood. Indeed, pregnancy and postpartum are associated with an increased risk for developing depressive symptoms in women. Postpartum depression affects approximately 10-15% of women and impairs mother-infant interactions that in turn are important for child development. Maternal attachment, sensitivity and parenting style are essential for a healthy maturation of an infant's social, cognitive and behavioral skills and depressed mothers often display less attachment, sensitivity and more harsh or disrupted parenting behaviors, which may contribute to reports of adverse child outcomes in children of depressed mothers. Here we review, in honor of the "father of motherhood", Jay Rosenblatt, the literature on postnatal depression in the mother and its effect on mother-infant interactions. We will cover clinical and pre-clinical findings highlighting putative neurobiological mechanisms underlying postpartum depression and how they relate to maternal behaviors and infant outcome. We also review animal models that investigate the neurobiology of maternal mood and disrupted maternal care. In particular, we discuss the implications of endogenous and exogenous manipulations of glucocorticoids on maternal care and mood. Lastly we discuss interventions during gestation and postpartum that may improve maternal symptoms and behavior and thus may alter developmental outcome of the offspring.

Keywords: Animal models; Antenatal depression; Maternal attachment; Maternal care; Mother–infant interaction; Postpartum depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child Development
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression, Postpartum / etiology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology
  • Depression, Postpartum / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors