How does postpartum depression affect baby's development?

Doctors measure how hormone affects mother's feeding, touch pattern

HOUSTON – Bonding with your baby may seem as if it should come naturally, but as many as 10-20 percent of new mothers deal with postpartum depression, and that could affect the development of their babies.

A new study aims to see how the so-called love hormone could help.

Aviva Zito loves being a mother. But when her fourth child, Zeke, was born, she admits it was a rocky start.

“Your hormones obviously are still out of whack. You cry easily,” Zito said.

Dr. Nancy Aaron-Jones, a child psychologist, wanted to know how a baby’s physiology, behavior and interactions with his or her mother change depending on whether the mother is depressed.

But how can you measure a baby’s mood?

“They call oxytocin the love hormone," Aaron-Jones said. "We know that in mothers it’s elevated, but what we are specifically looking at in this study is how that changes with the mother’s feeding and touch pattern, but also the baby’s.”

Aaron-Jones and her lab team take urine samples from mother and baby to measure oxytocin levels. They also monitor changes in the baby’s brain waves with a specially designed electroencephalogram, or EEG, cap. So far, there have been some interesting results.

“What we specifically found is that mothers who breastfeed are bonding, and their babies are showing some of the same physiology as mothers who are not depressed,” Aaron-Jones said.

Zito said it took some time, but she’s enjoying every moment with Zeke, which has led to a better bond between mother and baby.

Aaron-Jones has enrolled 50 mothers and babies in the study and hopes to increase that number to 200. She hopes the study will encourage new mothers to talk about depression and get the help they need.

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