Common Plastics Chemical Tied to Higher Odds for Postpartum Depression

TUESDAY, Sept. 26, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Moms with higher prenatal levels of plastics chemicals known as phthalates may face a slightly increased risk of postpartum depression, according to a new study.

Postpartum depression affects up to 20% of new mothers, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. That makes it the most common post-delivery pregnancy complication.

The NIH’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program set out to examine how chemicals commonly found in plastics and personal care products, including phenols, phthalates and parabens, might play a role in postpartum depression.

Exposure to these chemicals can affect hormone levels, and exposure is common through diet, absorbing them through the skin and inhalation.

Researchers found that all study participants had parabens in their system and nearly all had phthalates in their urine samples.

“Finding new ways to prevent postpartum depression is crucial because most of the known risk factors, like genetics and stressful life events, can’t be altered,” researcher Melanie Jacobson, of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, said in an NIH news release. “Therefore, focusing on prenatal exposure to these types of chemicals represents a novel interventional target.”

To study this, researchers measured the concentrations of these chemicals in urine samples of more than 2,100 pregnant women at five ECHO study sites.

The participants also completed depression assessments between two weeks and 12 months after delivery.

The researchers found that women with higher levels of phthalates -- especially those found in personal care items and plastic consumer products -- had an increased risk of postpartum depression.

Those participants who met the criteria for postpartum depression were more likely to be Hispanic and from the ECHO study site in Puerto Rico, the authors found. They were also likely to have attained less education and had substantially higher prenatal depression scores.

The findings were published Sept. 20 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

More information

The March of Dimes has more on postpartum depression.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, Sept. 21, 2023

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