Post-traumatic stress disorder affects one in three new mothers, states study.
Prof. Rael Strous of Tel Aviv University has found that approximately one third of all post-partum women exhibit some symptoms of PTSD, and a smaller percentage develop full-blown PTSD following the ordeal of labor.
Natural birth is a major cause of post-traumatic stress, according to the study.
Of those women who developed post-traumatic symptoms, 80 percent opted for natural childbirth without pain relief. Other significant factors identified include the woman's body image (including discomfort with being in an undressed state for the relatively prolonged period of labor and undergoing elective Caesarean sections), fear during labor, and complications in the present and earlier pregnancies and labors.
Researchers interviewed 89 post-partum women between the ages of 20 and 40, first within 2 to 5 days after delivery and then again one month after delivery. They discovered that of these participants, 25.9 percent displayed symptoms of post-trauma, 7.8 percent suffered from partial post-trauma, and 3.4 percent exhibited symptoms of full-blown PTSD.
Symptoms included flashbacks of the labor, the avoidance of discussion of the event, physical reactions such as heart palpitations during such discussions, and a reluctance to consider having another child.
According to Prof. Strous of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, one of the most influential factors was pain management during delivery. Of the women who experienced partial or full post-trauma symptoms, 80 percent had gone through a natural childbirth, without any form of pain relief.
A full 80 percent of the PTSD group reported feeling discomfort with being unclothed, and 67 percent had previous pregnancies, which they described as traumatic.
Fear of the labor itself, both in terms of expected pain levels and danger to themselves and their children, was also influential.
The researchers discovered to their surprise that support during labor, in the form of a midwife or doula, had no impact when it came to avoiding post-traumatic symptoms. Factors such as socioeconomic and marital status, level of education, and religion also had no effect.
Prof. Strous completed the study along with Dr. Inbal Shlomi Polachek of the Beer Yaakov Mental Health Center and Liat Harari and Micha Baum of the Sheba Medical Center.
The study was published in IMAJ, the Israel Medical Association Journal.