prehistoric mothers suffer from postpartum depression?
Hahn-Holbrook, a psychology professor at Chapman University,
in Orange, Calif., has been researching whether the condition
can be considered a so-called disease of modern civilization
such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
and Martie Haselton of UCLA wrote a paper examining the
connection between postpartum depression rates and lifestyle
factors that differ significantly from earlier eras.
note that hunter-gatherer women breastfed for several years,
had consistent exposure to vitamin D through sunshine and
lived among extended family. Additionally, they would have
exercised more and eaten diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids
from wild organ meat, both of which have been linked to lower
rates of depression.
also recently gave birth to her first child and is on
maternity leave from Chapman.
question is: Is this a normal state of human affairs?"
she said. "Because it is so devastating to mothers and
babies, it just didnít make sense to me that we were built
this way and that 1 in 5 mothers were going to experience a
debilitating illness at a time when we needed to be on our A
exact causes of postpartum depression are unknown, but medical
experts note that changes in hormone levels may influence
mood. Changes in work and relationships, a reduction in
leisure time and freedom, lack of sleep, and worries about
motherhood may also play a role.
addition to typical depressive symptoms, postpartum depression
may include feeling numb or disconnected from the baby; having
scary or negative thoughts, including fear of harming the
baby; and feeling guilty about not being a good mother,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
depression varies from the so-called baby blues, which
commonly include mood swings and teariness but donít last
longer than two weeks.
said postpartum depression rates vary around the world,
suggesting that societal factors play a role.
instance, breastfeeding rates are much lower than they were
for most of human history, with roughly 20 percent of American
mothers never trying it. The paper notes that prehistoric
fossils indicate that infants were weaned between ages 2 and
runs a breastfeeding research lab where sheís found that
breastfeeding mothers experience less stress than other women.
Additionally, other studies have shown that nursing mothers
are less likely to be depressed.
think evolution built in some mental health effects," she
said. "By not doing that, I think some women arenít
getting their postpartum stress buffer."
communal support is also a big challenge for many new mothers,
which could be contributing to depression rates, she said.
to hold the baby while you take a shower is the difference
between sanity or not," she said. "I live 1,000
miles away from my nearest blood relative, and it is not easy.
Weíre what we call cooperative breeders. Human children are
the most labor-intensive mammals."
paper also explores vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory
properties. Some studies have linked deficiency to depression.
I donít want readers to walk away with is that everything
old and natural is good and everything that is new and modern
is bad," Hahn-Holbrook said. "As modern women, weíre
trying to design workarounds. Iím not going to spend three
hours a day in the sun; Iím going to take a vitamin D
supplement. Maybe I donít need to be around my baby 24 hours
a day for six months; maybe I can pump (breast milk) and still
go to work."
has shaped how Hahn-Holbrook sees her research. She said she
struggled with breastfeeding initially but persisted because
of her knowledge of the benefits.
kind of thought because I had done all this research and had
taken so many precautions I was going to have no
problems," she said. "The postpartum period for me
was super hard. I remember thinking I have so much more
respect for all mothers."
National Institutes of Health offers these guidelines on when
to seek medical attention after giving birth:
baby blues don't go away after two weeks.
Symptoms of depression get more intense.
Symptoms of depression begin at any time after delivery, even
many months later.
Difficulty performing tasks at work or at home.
Inability to care for self or baby.
Thoughts of harming self or baby.
Thoughts that are not based in reality, or hearing or seeing
things that other people cannot.