Hormones and Post-Partum Period

Clinical Neuro-Psychologist Dr. Eliz Volkan


The way contribution of hormones towards the behavior and mental processes is no secret as the events, situations, activations of the nervous systems (both central and peripheral), muscular and hormonal mechanisms, and mental processes and behaviors work in an interconnected mechanism. Therefore, a change in one mechanism, can lead to the changes in other mechanisms. In order to illustrate this further, a very interesting study of Haselton and Miller (2006) can be looked at as they showed womens’ mating choices and sexual selection change based on the fertility cycles in terms of short-term and long-term mating. Moreover, they showed that the level of creativity in men for instance become a more preferable choice when compared to level of wealth when women are fertile.

Apart from the fertility, and the reproductive cycles, another period of time where women show hormonal changes is within the period of pregnancy, as well as post-partum. Certain hormones, namely rising levels of estrogen, oxytocin, beta-endorphins and prolactin (Buckley, 2015) play major roles throughout these periods, hence may affect the mental processes as well as related behaviors. Studies specifically show the importance of oxytocin in these periods as it stimulates constrictions of the uterus in time of labor, also as it is released during breastfeeding in the brains of both the mother and the child which contributes towards attachment processes. Oxytocin is shown to increase more than 60 pM just after 60 minutes after birth (Nissen, et al., 1995), hence aids all these processes. Certain birth procedures however seem to affect this process, such as epidural analgesia (Rham, 2002) as the oxytocin levels seem to be around 30pM after an epidural process. This furthermore can have a disruptive effect on the newborn sequencing, as well as breastfeeding initiation (Buckley, 2015). Moreover, it is also known that oxytocin further activates dopamine-associated reward and pleasure centers of the brain which creates a euphoric response to the natural childbirth that can also be disrupted by epidural procedures, as well as C-section.

Although not fully known just yet, these can be some of the organic causes of post-partum depression which affects 7-20% of new mothers (Gavin, et al., 2005) as partition related hormonal changes seem to causally implicate the development of postpartum depression (Bloch, Daly, & Rubinow, 2003). Moreover, several environmental factors of decreased social support, marital dissatisfaction and earlier history of mental health problems of the family also contribute within the development of this disorder. Yet, it is important to acknowledge and be aware of both the organic and the environmental symptoms in order to be fully prepared for this problem and related problems. All in all, specialized psychotherapy models have been created for this purpose, hence a solution can be looked through effective and empirically-based psychotherapies (Beck, 2001).


Dr. Eliz Volkan, CPsychol



Beck, C. T. (2001). Predictors of postpartum depression: an update. Nursing Research, 50 (5). 275-85.

Bloch, M., Daly, R. C., & Rubinow, D. R. (2003). Endocrine factors in the etiology of postpartum depression. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 44 (3), 234-46.

Buckley, S. J., (2015). Hormonal physiology of childbearing: Evidence and implications for women, babies, and maternity care. Childbirth Connection

Gavin, N. I., Gaynes, B. N., & Lohr, K. N., et al. (2005). Perinatal depression: A systematic review of prevalence and incidence. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 106 (5), 1071-83.

Miller, G. F., & Haselton, M. G. (2006). Women’s fertility across the cycle increases the short-term attractiveness of creative intelligence. Human Nature, 17 (1), 50-73.

 Nissen, E., Lilja, G., Matthiesen, A. S., et al. (1995). Effects of maternal pethidine on infants’ developing breast feeding behavior. Acta Paediatr, 84 (2), 140-145.