Adverse life events, psychiatric history, and biological predictors of postpartum depression in an ethnically diverse sample of postpartum women

Psychol Med. 2018 May;48(7):1190-1200. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717002641. Epub 2017 Sep 27.


Background: Race, psychiatric history, and adverse life events have all been independently associated with postpartum depression (PPD). However, the role these play together in Black and Latina women remains inadequately studied. Therefore, we performed a case-control study of PPD, including comprehensive assessments of symptoms and biomarkers, while examining the effects of genetic ancestry.

Methods: We recruited our sample (549 cases, 968 controls) at 6 weeks postpartum from obstetrical clinics in North Carolina. PPD status was determined using the MINI-plus. Psychiatric history was extracted from medical records. Participants were administered self-report instruments to assess depression (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) and adverse life events. Levels of estradiol, progesterone, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, oxytocin, and allopregnanalone were assayed. Principal components from genotype data were used to estimate genetic ancestry and logistic regression was used to identify predictors of PPD.

Results: This population was racially diverse (68% Black, 13% Latina, 18% European). Genetic ancestry was not a predictor of PPD. Case status was predicted by a history of major depression (p = 4.01E-14), lifetime anxiety disorder diagnosis (p = 1.25E-34), and adverse life events (p = 6.06E-06). There were no significant differences between groups in any hormones or neurosteroids.

Conclusions: Psychiatric history and multiple exposures to adverse life events were significant predictors of PPD in a population of minority and low-income women. Genetic ancestry and hormone levels were not predictive of case status. Increased genetic vulnerability in conjunction with risk factors may predict the onset of PPD, whereas genetic ancestry does not appear predictive.

Keywords: Adverse life events; genetic ancestry; postpartum depression; psychiatric history..

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depression, Postpartum / epidemiology*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Logistic Models
  • Medical History Taking*
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Postpartum Period / psychology*
  • Poverty
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*