During the postpartum period, women are at higher risk of developing a mental disorder such as postpartum depression (PPD), a disorder that associates with mother-infant bonding and child development. Oxytocin is considered to play a key role in mother-infant bonding and social interactions and altered oxytocin plasma concentrations were found to be associated with PPD. In the present study, we evaluated oxytocin plasma levels and depressive symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period in healthy women. We evaluated 100 women twice during pregnancy (weeks 35 and 38) and three times in the postpartum period (within 2 days and 7 weeks and 6 months after delivery) by measuring oxytocin plasma levels with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and assessing depressive symptoms with the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale. Oxytocin plasma levels significantly increased from the 35th week of gestation to 6 months postpartum in all women. However, levels decreased from the 38th week of gestation to 2 days after delivery in participants with postpartum depressive symptoms, whereas they continuously increased in the group without postpartum depressive symptoms; the difference between the course of oxytocin levels in the two groups was significant (Δt2-t3: t = 2.14; p = 0.036*). Previous depressive episodes and breastfeeding problems predicted postpartum depressive symptoms. Our results indicate that alterations in the oxytocin system during pregnancy might be specific for women who develop postpartum depressive symptoms. Future studies should investigate whether oxytocin plasma levels might have predictive value in women at high risk for PPD.
Keywords: Breastfeeding; Mother–infant bonding; Oxytocin; Postpartum depression; Prediction of depressive symptoms.