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Pregnancy & Depression: Protein linked to mom & baby

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Late Thursday afternoon, January 12, a medical team at The Ohio State announced they discovered a marker in a mother’s brain that has been linked to a higher risk for depression in pregnancy.

It's a protein that can be measured. It's also been linked to low birth weight for a baby. Researchers discovered women with low levels of a protein called BDNF have higher rates of depression and low birth weights.

BDNF stands for “brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” The team at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center found that when it declines sharply in women who are pregnant, their risk for depression goes up. The protein regulates mood in everyone but it gets used for the placenta and baby brain development in women who are pregnant. So regulating it may be even more important.

Researchers took blood tests during pregnancy to find this out. While it's not the only thing that can influence pregnancy depression and low birth weight, the study conducted on it is the first to suggest it is an important consideration in pregnancy.

There are things that can be done to increase BDNF levels. Anti-depressant medications can help. Some are considered safe to take in pregnancy but there are risks for side effects.

What can make the biggest difference for mom and baby without side effects: exercise! That means if people can just maintain activity levels in pregnancy they can maintain BDNF levels. It may not only benefit mom’s mood, but also can improve and help a baby's development.

Generally, whatever mothers were doing at the start of pregnancy they can continue.

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