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Postpartum Depression and Child Neglect

JJLopez's picture

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Jesika Lopez

Bio 202

Web Paper 2


Postpartum Depression

            Most people love babies, especially those women who are pregnant waiting for the arrival of their little one.  No one really thinks about the mental health of the expecting mother after childbirth; most assume a mother is supposed to be happier than ever after their baby is finally born.  But really, what happens with the brain after a mother gives birth and experiences symptoms of postpartum depression?   Can this be applied to new mothers rejection or neglect of newborns?

            This question on postpartum depression arose to me while doing research on baby cries and the differences in the pitch of the cries.  The higher pitched the cry sounds, indicates the more distressed a baby feels.  As I was doing the research, I found an article called “They Say: Baby’s Cry a ‘Natural High’ For Some, Disgust for Others”, which talked about research conducted at Baylor University on the neurological reasons for child neglect.  It said that for some mothers, when they hear the sound of their baby crying, they get what they call a ‘natural high’, which simply means that the brain releases chemicals that trigger the ‘high’ or a happier mood in the brain.   For other mothers, the sound of the baby’s cry, “triggers a part of the brain that produces feelings of disgust” (   The feeling of disgust the article talked about, made me curious as to why a new mother would feel any sort of disgust towards the cry of their newborn baby.  Perhaps the sound is obnoxious at times when you are tired, but the feeling of disgust the article spoke about dealt more with the negative results those feelings have on the connection the baby has with the mother.   The research concluded that the feelings of disgust are passed down through generations and possibly genetically.  For example: one mother feels disgust because her mother felt disgust, this was because her mother’s mother felt disgust because her mother’s mother’s mother felt disgust, etc.   This pattern of inherited disgust feelings reminded me of depression and how depression is many times passed down through family lines.  Postpartum depression is one form of depression and it is interesting to find out how this is the same or related to the “disgust feeling” Holler’s article spoke about. 

            According to eMedicinehealth online, 80% of women experience some feelings of sadness, fear, guilt, etc, after the birth of a child, also known as the “baby blues”. These feelings are normal and natural because of the large amount of physical, emotional, chemical changes that occur before, during, and after a pregnancy.   However, “10-20% of women develop a more disabling form of mood disorder, after child birth, called postpartum depression” (  Like major depression, postpartum depression has many levels; the ‘baby blues on the lowest end of the spectrum, postpartum nonpsychotic depression being the in the middle of the postpartum depression levels, and postpartum (puerperal) psychosis being the most serious of the disorder” (  The difference between the levels of this disorder is the severity of the problems, the length it stays, the time of onset, and the symptoms.  The baby blues occur during the first couple of days and last up to 2 weeks after childbirth, postpartum depression occurs within a few months after labor and displays very similar symptoms as regular depression.  Lastly, postpartum psychosis is rare and a person will develop psychotic symptoms such as: delusions, hallucinations, inability to sleep, agitation and mood swings within 3 weeks of giving birth ( 

            What causes the onset of postpartum depression?  Most commonly, postpartum depression is thought to be the result of the changes in hormones after childbirth.  “During pregnancy, the levels of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone rise greatly.  Within about 24 hours of giving birth, however, the levels of these hormones quickly return to normal” (  With women who experience postpartum depression, their brains are more sensitive to the rapid changes and thus experience hormonal imbalances that lead to the depressive state.   The Partners in Discovery newsletter from UCLA’s Department of Neurology published a short piece called “Pregnancy, Postpartum Depression and the Brain”.  This short article talks about receptors in the brain called neurotransmitter y-amino butyric acid (GABAA), which are involved in the hormonal changes that take place in a woman’s body during postpartum depression, PMS and PMDD.  “To avoid [reaching dangerously high levels of neurosteroids in the brain], the number of GABAA receptors sensitive to the progesterone-derived neurosteroids decreases, so that the high levels of neurosteroids are balanced out by fewer GABAA receptors” (Partners in Discovery).  The brain has a natural way of balancing out the levels of neurosteroids released during pregnancy.  However, after childbirth the levels of hormones are rapidly unbalanced again.  In this situation, the researchers found that “if the process of recovery of the GABAA receptors is delayed [after the rapid hormonal change postpartum], depression-like behavior ensues” (Partners in Discovery).  As we can see, postpartum depression is a result of the many sudden chemical changes that happen during and after pregnancy. 

            Most of the research done can prove that chemical imbalances are a big factor in the onset of this depression.  However, we also know that there are environmental and social players in the onset of this depression, but probably more specifically, they affect the severity in symptoms the person experiences.  As I can tell from reading the article “Postpartum Depression More Likely in African-American and Low Income Women”, all women of all races and socioeconomic statuses experience some level of postpartum depression.  More than likely those women whom experience higher levels of postpartum depression happen to be in lower income families because of the lack of resources available to them.  I doubt that race or ethnicity plays a huge role in the large amount of women of African American race, ethnicity, or decent who have reported experiencing postpartum depression.  “ Women who are poor already have a lot of stress, ranging from poor living conditions to concerns about paying bills; low income and African American women have an increased risk of postnatal depression” (Medical News Today).   As I can conclude from the research, everyone is equally susceptible of getting postpartum depression.  The only differences are that women of lower economic status cannot so easily get treatment for their depression, are less likely to seek counselors or psychologists, many times feel isolated or abandoned because of the scarce resources: money, food, clothing, shelter, family support, etc.   I have heard stories of some mother’s neglecting their child because of negative feelings or attitudes and I know now that this is a curable condition.  Many mothers whom feel any anger or disgust towards their child after birth are experiencing severe consequences of lack of knowledge on postpartum depression, lack of resources available to low income families to treat this disorder, and lack of family support.  Those mothers are not evil people, they are just victims of a natural change in their brains gone wrong, in addition to the other social and emotional, and environmental problems surrounding them. 


Works Cited

Crosta, Peter. “Postpartum Depression More Likely in African-American and Low-Income Women”.     Medical News Today. 

   29 March 2010. 

Frank, Julia MD. “Postpartum Depression”. 


            1 April 2010.

Holler, Madeline. “They Say: Baby’s Cry a ‘Natural High’ For Some, Disgust for             Others”.  30 March 2010.


Mody, Istvan. “Pregnancy, Postpartum Depression and the Brain”. Partners in             Discovery.  UCLA Department of Neurology. 

   2 April 2010. 


Paul Grobstein's picture

bably blues, postpartum depression, and our assumptions

"most assume a mother is supposed to be happier than ever after their baby is finally born ... Many mothers who feel ... anger or disgust towards their child after birth are experiencing severe consequences of lack of knowledge on postpartum depression, lack of resources available to low income families to treat this disorder, and lack of family support."

Given the frequency of both "baby blues" and PPD, I wonder why "most assume ..." and what role this plays in making the situation worse.  Might things be better if both mothers and people around them recognized that some period and degree of unhappy feelings are "normal"? 

Nicole's picture

postpartum depression

This is what ruined my world after i gave birth to my daughter; the unwanted mystery of why i don't actually feel love for the baby i gave birth to? The constant criticism of the spouse can be detrimental for the relationship. Doctors should inform men and women that this can actually happen as it happens to so many women/families around the world. I was feeling guilty for three years. I didn't know until a few months ago that i wasn't finally such a monster! I was just normal,with a common abnormality!