Phthalate Chemical Exposure during Pregnancy Linked to Postpartum Depression

Scientists from New York University Langone Medical Center who conducted a recent study on exposure to toxins during pregnancy are warning that women exposed to harmful, endocrine-disrupting phthalate chemicals during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from mood disorders after they have given birth.  More specifically, women with higher traces of phthalates* in their system were found to be more likely to develop postpartum depression**.  The researchers explain that exposure to these harmful chemicals can influence hormonal shifts during pregnancy.

*A group of chemicals used in hundreds of household products like those containing “fragrances” including room deodorizing sprays and plug-ins, vinyl flooring, personal care products like shampoo, nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions and soaps, and bottled water and plastic food packaging.

**Postpartum depression is a serious and common psychiatric disorder that affects up to one in five childbearing women.  Hormonal changes during pregnancy have been found to be an important factor in postpartum depression.

Study overview

Researchers measured the levels of bisphenols and phthalates in urine samples and sex hormones in blood samples from 139 pregnant women. They assessed these women at four months postpartum using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) – a simple 10-item self-report scale that identifies women at high risk of developing depression. 

Study results overview

The research team found that women with higher levels of phthalates in their urine were more likely to develop postpartum depression. 

The women also had lower levels of progesterone, a hormone that plays an important role in the menstrual cycle, in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy and in modulating mood. 

Conclusion:  Endocrine disrupting chemicals may influence hormonal shifts during pregnancy, as well as contribute to postpartum depression.

Takeaways

  • US scientists warn against exposure to phthalates, found in home care and personal care products, toys and food and drink packaging, during pregnancy
  • The researchers say phthalates are detectable in nearly all pregnant women in the US
  • In this latest study, women with higher levels of phthalates in their system during pregnancy were most likely to suffer from postpartum depression

Journal reference: Jacobson, M.H., et al.  Prenatal exposure to bisphenols and phthalates and postpartum depression: The role of neurosteroid hormone disruption. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Apr 1, 2021, dgab199, https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgab199