Does postpartum depression exist in animals?

According to a survey conducted on Thursday, September 23, 2021 by OpinionWay for teleconsultation platform Qare, postpartum depression is experienced by 30% of women and diagnosed in 5% of respondents. But what about the animal world?

Can we talk about postpartum depression in the animal kingdom?

Spoiler: there is no definite answer, but there are assumptions. “We can never give a definitive answer, but we can try to correlate the changes or events experienced by the female with whether or not she will be maternal. And moreover, we will have to establish a connection between the expression of this maternal behavior and the fact that it is associated with psychological disorders, such as increased anxiety or general apathy. evaluates Raymond Nowak, director of research at CNRS, a specialist in sheep behavior.

It is difficult to identify possible postpartum depression in animals for the following reason: they do not have a verbal expression. “Behavioral anomalies exist, especially in inexperienced women, but we cannot infer a depression-like mental state.”, the specialist continues. However, there are parades to try and understand how the animals feel.

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Postpartum depression, a hypothesis difficult to confirm in animals

The researcher proceeds from the following postulate:We know that the expression of maternal behavior is associated with profound neurohormonal changes, and these neurohormonal changes will be responsible for such caring behaviors.” In other words, therefore, it is necessary to determine what is the relationship between these neurohormonal changes and the fact that the female will express her behavior in the right or wrong way.

In farm animals, behavioral disturbances can be felt in the mother. This is manifested in a lack of interest in the child or refusal to breastfeed, especially in ruminants. These drifts are more common in a female giving birth to her first child. “Although very rare, infanticide behavior can be observed in rabbits, sows, or bitches, which can lead a mother to eat her young.Raymond Novak says. The history of the female is also of great importance, as it can affect the quality of the bond with the child.

Moreover, the rejection of their offspring in animals may be the result of suffering suffered in childhood. “A human parallel can be drawn, and postpartum depression may have been more frequent in a mother who herself was in a family where the mother-child dyad was dysfunctional.promoted by Cecil Garcia, primatologist, researcher at CNRS.

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“Social isolation is part of the depression”

In nonhuman primates, as in other social animals, the idea that they can tolerate postpartum depression is not without merit: It’s likely that primates also have risk factors.” she points out. At the moment, no studies in the natural environment on this aspect have been conducted. Hypotheses can be made by following the animal before and during pregnancy to see if the individual is in a chronically depressed state. “Some women may show neglect or, conversely, an obsession with maternal care, but it is difficult to attribute such behavior to the label of postpartum depression., the expert says cautiously. As with the baboons, in which Cecile Garcia was able to observe primiparous females who neglected their cubs.

As for depression, it can be expressed in different ways, but again, without a longitudinal observation (ie, several weeks before and several weeks after farrowing), it is difficult to distinguish postpartum depression in non-human primates. “In case of discomfort, the female will groom or scratch more often. Social isolation is part of depression.”

Finally, the role of the man may be a criterion to be taken into account. “In most non-human primates, paternal care is poorly developed. But it is possible that the presence of “helpers” weakens the phenomena of postpartum depression. concludes Cecil Garcia. In tamarins, the male is present to take care of the young.

Read also:

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