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Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011;13(1):89-100.

New insights into perinatal depression: pathogenesis and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum.

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  • 1Perinatal Psychiatry Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.


Maternal perinatal mental health has enormous consequences for the well-being of the mother, her baby, and the family. Although it is well documented that perinatal depression is both common and morbid, with a prevalence of 10% to 15% in the general population, there remain many critically important unanswered questions about the pathogenesis of perinatal depression and most effective treatment regimens. Current lines of evidence from both human and animal models implicate hormonal dysregulation, abnormalities in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, and the contributions of genetics and epigenetics as playing key roles in the development of perinatal reproductive mood disorders. Investigations into both human and animal models of perinatal depression offer much promise for the future identification of the underlying pathophysiology and subsequent early identification and/or prevention and appropriate treatment for women at risk for postpartum depression. Lastly, although it is generally accepted that pregnancy is not protective with regard to new onset or relapse of depression, the way to best treat maternal depression during pregnancy and lactation remains hotly debated. Future research in this area will more clearly elucidate the underlying pathogenesis, the potential long-term impact of perinatal depression on the developing fetus, and how best to counsel pregnant women about the risks of untreated major depressive disorder versus the risks of psychopharmacologic treatment during pregnancy and lactation.

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