Post-Traumatic, Post-Partum Syndrome?

Postpartum PTSD affects some women following the trauma of giving birth

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If giving birth can feel like an intense physical battle for some women, then it may not be surprising that some women can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms following birth.

Usually PTSD follows stressful experiences such as fighting in a war or surviving a terrorist attack, car accident or other major traumatic event.

But a recent study has found that as many as one in three women exhibit some of the symptoms of PTSD following labor and birth, and a smaller percentage appear to have the majority of the symptoms.

"Seek help if you feel depressed after giving birth."

The study, led by Professor Rael Strous of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, involved 89 postpartum interviews with women between the ages of 20 and 40.

The women were interviewed two to five days after giving birth and then one month later.

Approximately 26 percent of the women had some symptoms of PTSD, 7.8 percent appeared to suffer from partial PTSD and 3.4 percent fit the description of full-blown PTSD.

Their symptoms ranged from having flashbacks to their labor and trying to avoid discussing their birth experience, to having physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat and even feeling reluctant about having future children.

The researchers found that the largest percentage of women developing PTSD symptoms - 80 percent of them - were those who had chosen to have a vaginal birth without pain relief.

Among women who had no PTSD symptoms, just under half (48 percent) had given birth vaginally without pain relief. "The less pain relief there was, the higher the woman's chances of developing post-partum PTSD," Dr. Strous said.

Other factors which appeared to play a part in women's development of symptoms included not feeling comfortable with being undressed during labor or elective cesarean sections, fear during labor and complications in their current pregnancy or a past one.

Among those who had symptoms of PTSD, 80 percent reported feeling uncomfortable about not being clothed, and 67 percent said they had had past pregnancies that were traumatic.

Interestingly, the presence of a midwife or doula during birth did not appear to affect whether a woman experienced PTSD symptoms after birth or not.

The researchers also looked at socioeconomic status, marital status, a woman's level of education and a woman's religion and found that none of these factors played a part in her risk of developing PTSD symptoms.

Not everyone believes giving birth counts as a "traumatic event." The experience shares the legitimate fear of danger and pain - for the mother and for her child - that can occur with other traumatic events, but it is not unexpected in the same way that most other traumatic events are.

Regardless, there are things woman and caregivers can do to lessen the trauma of the experience. Dr. Strous recommended that women receive extensive counseling about pain relief during labor and that the women be properly covered during labor and delivery.

"Dignity is a factor that should be taken into account. It's an issue of ethics and professionalism, and now we can see that it does have physical and psychological ramifications," Dr. Strous said.

In addition, women who are experiencing flashbacks, racing heartbeat, nightmares and other PTSD symptoms should contact their OB/GYN or a mental health provider.

The study was published in the June issue of the Israel Medical Association Journal. Information was unavailable regarding the study's funding and disclosures.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 15, 2013