Psychobiology of postpartum mood disorders

Katherine L. Wisner*, Zachary N. Stowe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Postpartum mood disorders are common. The clustering of mood-disorder episodes after birth compels a search for factors particularly potent during childbearing. In this article, the complex relationships between the dynamic postbirth physiological environment and mood disorder are discussed. Available studies show a lack of evidence that serum levels of gonadal hormones account for mood disturbance in women. However, substantial amounts of data demonstrate their ability to modulate other neuroendocrine systems. Alterations in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function attributable to childbearing show remarkable similarity to those observed in depressed women. Postpartum women are also at increased risk for hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroidal (HPT) axis dysfunction that may increase affective-disorder vulnerability. A decreased rate of postpartum recovery of HPA- and HPT-axis function may play a more central role than cross-sectional measures. Understanding the etiology of postpartum mood disorders will require integration of multiple psychosocial and biological risk factors. Further research is critically needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-89
Number of pages13
JournalSeminars in reproductive endocrinology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 22 1997


  • Postpartum depression
  • mood disorder
  • postpartum psychosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Endocrinology


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