Van Andel Institute: New Study On Pregnancy, Depression & Inflammation

Nov 22, 2019

Associate Professor authors new study
Credit Van Andel Institute

A number of women experience depression or "baby blues" after pregnancy.  But severe pregnancy related depression could now be linked to inflammation.  That, from a new study authored by a professor from the Van Andel Institute. 

“Baby Blues is very common. Up to 90-percent of women experience that after delivery.”

Dr. Lena Brundin is an associate professor at Van Andel Institute.  She’s also the senior author of a new study that links severe depression in pregnancy to inflammation.  She says while the “baby blues” is common and generally caused by rapid hormonal changes— there’s a big difference in a more chronic depression, longer than a week.  Dr. Brundin says the study shows, a runaway, inflammatory immune response may be responsible for triggering severe depression during and after pregnancy.

“We thought, that maybe women who are sensitive to inflammatory changes could be sensitive to what’s going on during pregnancy because there’s a lot of changes in the immune system during pregnancy.”

Dr. Brundin says that is in fact what they found.  The women with the highest levels of inflammation in their blood were the severely ill women, right after pregnancy.

Dr. Brundin and a team, which includes researchers from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Michigan State University analyzed blood samples from 165 patient volunteers at Pine Rest’s Mother and Baby Program and the Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.  Brundin says from the study they may be able to determine who is at risk of developing depression through blood samples.

“And then, we could do several things.  These women could be seen earlier for their check-up. We can make sure things are going ok, so that preventative measures could be taken. There’s also an opportunity to counteract inflammation.  There’s a lot of anti-inflammatory medications out there already. And so, our next steps might be to test some of these medications for post-partum depression.”

The new study is published in the journal, Brain, Behavior and Immunity.