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Postpartum Depression: Is It Hereditary?

Is depression hereditary?” is one of the many questions undergoing examination and research in the mental health field. Scientists are confident that depression, including postpartum depression, can be inherited.

Is Depression Hereditary for Everyone?

If your parents struggle with depression, you might be wondering, “Is depression hereditary for everyone?” or “Are you guaranteed to have depression if your parents do too”? The answer is no. Genetics is a numbers game and very few outcomes are guaranteed based on the parents’ genetic makeup. Furthermore, the genes that affect one’s risk for depression are numerous. There are genes that control how much serotonin is produced and how many serotonin receptors are available. The same is true for every other chemical responsible for mood regulation. If you have siblings, take a moment to think about all the things that you have in common and all the things that make you different. Maybe you need prescription glasses, but your sister has 20/20 vision. This is just one example of how different outcomes can be attained from the same gene pool.

Genetics of Postpartum Depression

The symptoms of postpartum depression become apparent shortly after giving birth. Knowing the answer to the question “Is depression hereditary” can actually help women prepare for postpartum depression. If your mother reports having postpartum depression, as well as your sister, your aunt, your grandmother, your cousin, etc., and if they share similar stories, chances are you will also be affected by postpartum depression. But if no woman in your family reports postpartum depression, that doesn’t mean you aren’t totally in the clear. Depression is not controlled purely by genetics; environmental factors play a role as well. For example, a traumatic birth experience can potentially lead to postpartum depression. Know the risk factors and the signs so that you can get help as soon as possible. Risk factors include:

  • Family history of postpartum depression
  • Personal history of any type of depression
  • Stressful events that occurred during pregnancy
  • Difficulty breastfeeding
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Baby born with health problems
  • Relationship problems with significant other
  • Weak support system
  • Financial strain

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Excessive crying
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Feeling worthless, guilty or ashamed
  • Sudden changes in appetite
  • Sudden changes in sleep patterns
  • Anger and irritability
  • Poor concentration

Postpartum depression affects nearly 15% of all women who give birth and it can last for months if left untreated. Know that help is available and that you are not alone if you are experiencing signs of postpartum depression.   Resources:

Postpartum Depression: A Systematic Review of The Genetics Involved – World Journal of Psychiatry (NCBI) Postpartum Depression – Mayo Clinic

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