- Lower blood levels of a biomarker called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been associated with depression.
- BDNF levels change during pregnancy and can cause depression in the mother and low birth weight in the baby.
- Staying physically active during pregnancy can help maintain BDNF levels.
One in seven women suffer from depression during pregnancy and more than a half million women impacted by postpartum depression in the U.S. alone.
The disorder not only affects the mother's mood, but has also been linked to influencing the newborn's development, according to recent research.
‘Antidepressant medications have been shown to increase BDNF levels but with side effects. On the other hand, exercise maintains BDNF levels during pregnancy.’
A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, research from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels change during pregnancy, and can cause depression in the mother and low birth weight in the baby.
"Our research shows BDNF levels change considerably across pregnancy and provide predictive value for depressive symptoms in women, as well as poor fetal growth. It's notable that we observed a significant difference in BDNF in women of different races," said Lisa M. Christian , an associate professor of psychiatry in the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center and principal investigator of the study.
Researchers took blood serum samples during and after pregnancy from 139 women and observed that BDNF levels dropped considerably from the first through the third trimesters, and subsequently increased at postpartum.
Controlling for race, lower BDNF levels at both the second and third trimesters predicted greater depressive symptoms in the third trimester. In addition, women delivering low versus healthy weight infants showed significantly lower BDNF in the third trimester, but didn't differ in depressive symptoms at any point during pregnancy, which suggests separate effects.
"Antidepressant medications have been shown to increase BDNF levels. This may be appropriate for some pregnant women, but is not without potential risks and side effects."
"Luckily, another very effective way to increase BDNF levels is through exercise," she said." With approval from your physician, staying physically active during pregnancy can help maintain BDNF levels, which has benefits for a woman's mood, as well as for her baby's development."
- Lisa M. Christian, Study: Depression in pregnancy, low birth weight tied to biomarker, Psychoneuroendocrinology (2017).