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Oxytocin and Postpartum Depression

Also known as ‘post natal depression,’ postpartum describes some of the emotions that surround the period immediately after childbirth when the bond between mother and baby is often cemented by the production of milk during breast-feeding.  But for many mothers this cementation is made more difficult when their natural hormones don’t kick in and they find it hard to lactate – and this pressure builds up till it spills over into the whole family relationship.

Way back at almost the beginning of the last century, 1906 to be exact, a British scientist discovered a naturally occurring hormone, secreted during childbirth called oxytocin (translated from the Greek meaning ‘speedy birth’) and found that it had a couple of primary functions; first it contracted the uterus to help the birthing process and then it stimulated the mammary glands to begin lactation. While it was Sir Henry Dale[1]  who first discovered the hormone and its connections, much work has been done in the area of postpartum across the years and most recently James F. Paulson, PhD et al, talked about the issue in the ‘Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics’[2]  in an abstract from an article that looked at the links between postpartum on mothers, fathers and parenting. In the full article they discuss the role of oxytocin in lactation and the impact that the reduction or even cessation of milk production can have on stress levels for the whole family.

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