Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 55–63 | Cite as

GABAA dysregulation as an explanatory model for late-onset postpartum depression associated with weaning and resumption of menstruation

  • Clare S. Burke
  • Leah C. Susser
  • Alison D. HermannEmail author
Review Article


It is well established that a subgroup of women are particularly vulnerable to affective dysregulation during times of hormonal fluctuation. One underrecognized reproductive transition may be late-onset postpartum depression (PPD) in the context of weaning from breastfeeding and the resumption of menstruation. The goal of this review is to propose a biologically plausible mechanism for affective dysregulation during these transitions. The relationship between affective symptoms and neurohormonal changes associated with weaning will be investigated through a hypothesis-driven review of relevant literature. Neurosteroids, like allopregnanolone (ALLO), are widely recognized for augmenting GABAergic inhibition and having a powerful anxiolytic effect (Belelli D and Lambert JL, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6:565-575, 2005). However, when ALLO is administered after prolonged withdrawal, there may be a paradoxical anxiogenic effect (Smith et al., Psychopharmacology 186:323–333, 2006; Shen et al., Nat Neurosci 10:469–477, 2007). Weaning from breastfeeding is a physiologic example of fluctuating levels of ALLO after prolonged withdrawal. We propose that the complex hormonal milieu during weaning and resumption of menstruation may modify GABAA receptors such that ALLO may contribute to rather than ameliorate depressive symptoms in vulnerable individuals. The proposed model provides an initial step for understanding the mechanisms by which the changing hormonal environment during weaning and resumption of menstruation may contribute to an increased risk of depression in a subgroup of women who are hormonally sensitive. Future research investigating this model would be valuable both to identify women at increased risk for developing mood symptoms late in postpartum and to inform treatment for this and related reproductive depressive disorders.


Postpartum depression Allopregnanolone GABA Weaning Breastfeeding Menstruation Oxytocin 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clare S. Burke
    • 1
  • Leah C. Susser
    • 2
  • Alison D. Hermann
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Weill Cornell Medical CollegeNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Weill Cornell Medical CollegeWhite PlainsUSA
  3. 3.Weill Cornell Medical CollegeNew YorkUSA

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