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Obesity is emerging as a significant problem globally, and more so among women. In women, apart from causing metabolic disorders, it is also associated with a greater risk of mood disorders, hormonal changes, fertility-related issues, reduced libido, and more. These risks are apart from the significantly increased risk of premature death.
Pregnancy is a normal physiological state. However, during this period, women have to pay particular attention to nutrition. Pregnancy also causes weight gain, which is a normal phenomenon. Most women can expect to gain anywhere between 12 pounds to as much as 30 pounds.
Here it is vital to understand that part of the weight gain is due to a growing fetus or baby. However, considerable weight gain is in the form of water retention, fat accumulation, and more. It is because women’s body prepares for the postpartum period. For example, it prepares for prolonged breastfeeding. Generally, this weight gain is good for a child’s health.
However, most women would like to return to their prior body weight after a certain period. But many struggles. There could be many reasons for this, like altered appetite, hormonal changes, psychological changes, etc.
Studies show that most women, even relatively healthy women, struggle to reduce body weight after childbirth. For example, one of the extensive studies on 774 women showed that 75% of women were heavier even one year after the child’s birth. In addition, it showed that 47.4% were about 10 pounds heavier, and another 24.2% were more than 20 pounds heavier than they were before pregnancy1.
It appears that postpartum depression can make things even worse.
What is the link between postpartum depression and weight gain?
Postpartum is a severe psychiatric disorder. It is now recognized as a separate disease condition from major depression that affects both genders. It is because studies show that almost 20% of postpartum deaths occur due to the condition, thus a significant issue2.
Postpartum depression is relatively common. Studies show that the risk of depression in the postpartum period is 2-3 times greater. Further studies show that it affects about 10-20% of women. However, the prevalence of the condition may vary significantly between various cultural groups.
Most women who develop postpartum depression are a bit prone to mood disorders. They might also develop antenatal depression.
However, depression never comes alone. It is associated with a greater risk of various other health issues, suicidal tendencies, and an even greater risk of obesity.
It would be correct to say that it only slightly increases the risk when it comes to the risk of obesity in those living with postpartum depression. Studies show that most women struggle with body weight in the postpartum period and not only those living with postpartum depression3.
Nevertheless, postpartum depression can make any weight loss effort very difficult. It would also make health worse and thus further worsen the depression.
Researchers have struggled to understand the higher risk of postpartum depression and associated obesity in some women. Nonetheless, it is logical to guess that it may have much to do with the level of reproductive hormones.
Thus, for example, researchers think that postpartum depression and obesity occur in some women due to a sudden decline in estradiol and progesterone levels. As in pregnancy, levels of these hormones are above normal levels. However, there is a sudden decline in the level of these hormones in the postpartum period making things worse in some women2.
Another problem seems to be associated with oxytocin. It appears that a high level of oxytocin during pregnancy is quite a good predictor of postpartum depression and associated health issues like obesity4.
Similarly, yet another study indicates that placental corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) may also help predict the risk of postpartum depression and associated health issues. Another hormone that helps predict the risk is allopregnanolone2.
Of course, researchers have identified other factors. For example, it appears that neurotransmitter levels may also help predict the risk of postpartum depression and associated obesity. Understanding them may also help manage the condition. Thus, a need to understand the levels of monoamine oxidase A enzyme, serotonin levels, and more2.
Things to look for and how to help
There are a few things one can do to overcome both postpartum depression and obesity. Here it is vital to understand that the focus should be on both the conditions. Managing one without managing another is not going to work.
There are no single methods that would work for all, and thus a need for a multidimensional approach. It means that one can use multiple ways to fight depression.
Start with physical activity or exercise program. Studies show that it is one of the most effective and healthy ways of tackling both depression and reducing the risk of obesity. Moreover, it is worth understanding that a restrictive diet is not the right way for the population group due to the greater risk of malnutrition.
Another good way could be to join a support group. It is not a rare condition. One can join even some online groups that provide heaps of helpful information. Studies show that social isolation only makes the condition worse. Whereas talking to others may help find various ways of managing the condition.
Additionally, as already mentioned that hormone swings have much to do with the postpartum depression risk and obesity. Thus, it is good to have a thorough check-up for hormone levels like oxytocin level, serotonin, sex hormones, and other neurohormones.
Once the person has understood the underlying hormonal issue making things worse, talking about postpartum depression and obesity will be easier.
To conclude, postpartum depression is not a rare problem and can be a life-threatening condition. To make things worse, studies show that most women also struggle with obesity in the period, thus making things worse. Hence, to overcome the condition, one must try to resolve or manage both these issues simultaneously.
- ENDRES LK, STRAUB H, MCKINNEY C, et al. Postpartum Weight Retention Risk Factors and Relationship to Obesity at One Year. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;125(1):144-152. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000000565
- Payne JL, Maguire J. Pathophysiological Mechanisms Implicated in Postpartum Depression. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2019;52:165-180. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.12.001
- Herring SJ, Rich-Edwards JW, Oken E, Rifas-Shiman SL, Kleinman KP, Gillman MW. Association of Postpartum Depression With Weight Retention 1 Year After Childbirth. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008;16(6):1296-1301. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.71
- Skrundz M, Bolten M, Nast I, Hellhammer DH, Meinlschmidt G. Plasma Oxytocin Concentration during Pregnancy is associated with Development of Postpartum Depression. Neuropsychopharmacol. 2011;36(9):1886-1893. doi:10.1038/npp.2011.74