Changes in estrogen levels during pregnancy make
women more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol. Soon after the baby is
born, the estrogen levels return to normal. However, women with these genetic
variations are unable to do so, leading to postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression is a type of depression
some women experience after they have had a baby. It usually develops in
the first four to six weeks after childbirth, but in some cases, it may take
months to develop.
Postnatal depression is not the same as 'baby
blues' which is a mild type of depression that occurs after childbirth and
lasting from a few hours to a few days. During this time, the new mother may
feel tearful and irritable, but no medical treatment is needed since in milder
forms it is considered normal. However, if it is more prolonged and severe, it
can develop into postnatal depression.
Symptoms of postnatal depression include low
mood, feeling unable to cope and difficulty with sleeping. Unfortunately, many
women are not aware they have the condition. Sometimes, the new mother may feel very agitated or alternatively very
apathetic or have feelings of guilt and self-blame. She may even be thinking
about harming self or the baby.
In view of this, the research is
very important. 'There is evidence that if you can identify women at risk
early, you could treat early or introduce measures to prevent or stop the
process of the disease,' Grammatopoulos said.
Based on this research,
Grammatopoulos and his team have developed the
first ever blood test for postnatal depression which would allow women found to
be at risk to receive treatment for the disease before they give birth.
Prof Grammatopoulos said he could test women for
the genetic changes for between £30 and £40. But automating the test so that
robots could screen large numbers of samples would bring the cost down to just
'Usually we focus on the mother, but the negative
impact on the child is also immense,' Prof Grammatopoulos said. He is now
looking for further genetic changes to increase the predictive power of the