'Love Hormone' May Buffer Kids From Mom's Depression 12/09/11
FRIDAY, Dec. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Children born to mothers with
postpartum depression are at increased risk for mental health
problems, but a hormone called oxytocin may reduce the risk,
according to a new study.
Oxytocin, which is produced naturally in the body and has been
associated with feelings of love and trust, may help protect kids
from the negative effects of maternal depression, the researchers
found. A synthetic version of the hormone is available as
In the study, Israeli researchers looked at 155 mother-child
pairs. By the time they were 6 years old, 60 percent of children
born to mothers who were consistently depressed for the first year
after giving birth had mental health problems, mainly anxiety and
Among the 6-year-old children whose mothers did not have
postpartum depression, only 15 percent had mental health problems,
the investigators noted.
The study also found that children born to mothers with extended
postpartum depression were less verbal and had lower levels of
playfulness and creativity, less engagement with their mothers,
diminished social involvement, and less empathy for the pain and
distress of others.
These children and their mothers also had disordered functioning
of the oxytocin system, as shown by lower levels of oxytocin in
their saliva and a variant on the oxytocin receptor gene that
increases the risk of depression, according to study leader Ruth
Feldman, a professor in the psychology department and the Gonda
Brain Sciences Center at Bar-Ilan University, and colleagues.
Among the children born to depressed mothers, the 40 percent who
did not have mental disorders by age 6 had normal functioning of
the oxytocin system and normal levels of oxytocin in their
The study was slated for presentation Thursday at the annual
meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, in
"We found the functioning of the oxytocin system helps to safeguard some children against the effects of chronic maternal depression," Feldman said in a college news release. "This study could lead to potential treatment options for postpartum depression and methods to help children develop stronger oxytocin systems."
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
The Nemours Foundation has more about
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