University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Brenna Jorgensen



Undergraduate Research Award


Brenna Jorgensen is a senior pursuing a dual degree in Education and Psychology on the neuroscience track. Under the mentorship of Stephanie Padilla, her current research is focused on investigating the relationship between energy balance and behavior during the postpartum period. Her senior thesis will examine the effects of an omega rich diet on the expression of hunger hormone levels during lactation, as well as those hormones involved in the suppression and activity of the reproductive axis. Through this project she seeks to further elucidate the neural mechanism by which lactational infertility occurs and the consequences of such infertility on maternal mood and behavior.


Generally, my research concerns the wellbeing of individuals who have recently given birth and are currently lactating. A large proportion (10-15%) of birthing individuals experience postpartum depression (PPD), and an even greater number (nearly 50%) of people experience ‘baby blues’ or a short-lived period of depressed mood and affect following childbirth. One of the more popular hypotheses for the etymology of postpartum depression attributes the development of the disorder to the sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone which accompanies childbirth. My research project will consider this ‘hormone withdrawal hypothesis’ in conjunction with the understanding that the energetic demands of lactation are significant enough to shut down ovulation and consequently clamp the production of ovarian hormones.

Using mice as an animal model, our goal is to alleviate the energetic imbalance which results from lactation, just enough to see improvements in some of the negative mood and behavior changes observed during the postpartum period. Our hypothesis is that those animals administered a diet which is high in omega-3 fatty acids during lactation, will show improved maternal behavior as well as a less fractured sleep/wake schedule. If effective, this experiment will not only guide scientific understanding of PPD but will also provide tangible information for pregnant and lactating individuals making choices about their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

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