The pregnancy hair test

Docs may soon screen strands to assess PPD risk.

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According to a recent study in PLOS ONE, women who developed postpartum depression (PPD) exhibited higher hair cortisol levels throughout their pregnancy than those who didn’t suffer PPD.

When you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or times of strain (such as during pregnancy)—all of which increases PPD risk—cortisol is high. While more research is needed, the study authors note that detecting the hormone in hair could become standard practice during prenatal screenings. “And being able to watch for the warning signs, which also include noticeable mood changes, means you can catch and reduce the side effects of PPD earlier,” adds Linda Sebastian, RN, a Fort Myers, Florida-based psychiatric nurse practitioner and author of Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.
Talk to your doctor if you’re pregnant and feel any changes to your mental state, says Sebastian. It’s also a good idea to check in with a professional if any additional major life stressors, such as a job transition, come up during your pregnancy since anxiety and depression are two symptoms of PPD that can be diagnosed more easily. Regular exercise that you enjoy is also a great way to combat stressors.