Could Pregnancy Reduce Symptoms of PTSD?

pregnant woman sitting outside on the grassSymptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD) may improve during pregnancy for as many as 75% of pregnant women, according to a study published in Depression and Anxiety. For the remaining 25%, PTSD symptoms may worsen during pregnancy, making it more difficult for women to bond with their newborns.

PTSD—a psychological reaction to traumatic experiences—can cause anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, low self-esteem, and other trauma-related symptoms. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, women are more likely than men to experience trauma such as childhood sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. A third of all women experience sexual assault during their lives, and rates of PTSD in women are disproportionately high. Women generally have a 10% chance of developing PTSD, compared to just 4% for men.

How Pregnancy and PTSD Interact

For this study, researchers from the University of Michigan recruited 319 pregnant women who had been diagnosed with PTSD at some point during their lives. The team assessed women for PTSD symptoms at 28 and 35 weeks gestation. They also interviewed about half of the participants six weeks after giving birth.

More than half of the women had high levels of PTSD at the first interview. All members of this group experienced a reduction in their symptoms as pregnancy progressed. Most women with low symptoms of PTSD remained at the same low level throughout pregnancy.

For 25% of participants, PTSD symptoms worsened over the course of the pregnancy. Though a number of factors, including previous PTSD symptoms and a history of childhood sexual abuse, increased the likelihood of PTSD symptoms increasing. New trauma during pregnancy and high anxiety about childbirth, however, were the most significant predictors of worsening PTSD.

Strong Support Systems for Pregnant Women with PTSD

The authors highlight the effects PTSD can have on women and their families, and emphasize the importance of screening pregnant women for undiagnosed PTSD. Participants who had the strongest social support systems were the least likely to experience increasing PTSD symptoms.

References:

  1. Muzik, M., Mcginnis, E. W., Bocknek, E., Morelen, D., Rosenblum, K. L., Liberzon, I. . . . Abelson, J. L. (2016). PTSD Symptoms Across Pregnancy and Early Postpartum Among Women with Lifetime PTSD Diagnosis. Depression and Anxiety. doi:10.1002/da.22465
  2. Pregnancy and PTSD: Surprising findings could help moms-to-be at risk. (2016, February 10). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/uomh-pp020916.php
  3. Women, trauma, and PTSD. (2015, August 13). Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/women/women-trauma-and-ptsd.asp

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  • dawn

    dawn

    February 11th, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    any studies how a pregnant wife or girlfriend could impact a male who has PTSD and lives in the home with the pregnant female?

  • Jenna

    Jenna

    February 12th, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    This is awesome. I know that there are probably families that struggle with how this could effect them if they got pregnant so to know that it could actually help alleviate some of the symptoms is great for them to know.

  • billie a

    billie a

    February 12th, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    Why would I even want to take this kind of chance?

  • Riley

    Riley

    February 14th, 2016 at 4:19 PM

    Whether you are planning to get pregnant or not if you have ptsd you will always want to have a good strong team supporting you!

  • Ron

    Ron

    February 15th, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    Now you know that this is not going to be true across the board. There will be some women that this might help but then there will be others for whom this becomes a terrible experience. I personally would want my wife and daughter to have the PTSD under control before even attempting to become pregnant. Having a child should be a very special time and should not have to worry about something like this while expecting. I would also be concerned for the overall health of the unborn child.

  • miller t

    miller t

    February 16th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    this could be all about the hormones that a woman has when pregnant, the levels could change and offer an evening out of symptoms but of course this would only be a temporary thing

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