Identifying Mothers Who Are at Risk for PTSD after Childbirth

Trauma from childbirth can have long-term effects on a mother, especially when the childbirth experience was complicated, lengthy, painful, or life threatening. For women who have emergency cesarean section births, rates of posttraumatic stress (PTSD) are very high in the immediate weeks after birth. However, there are a number of other factors that could influence the development of PTSD. In a recent study, Maryam Modarres of the Department of Midwifery and the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at Shahed University in Iran looked at what factors pre- and post-delivery affected the onset of PTSD.

Modarres assessed 400 women in the first two months after childbirth and found that 54.5% of them had experienced a traumatic birth and a total of 80 women had post-partum PTSD. She looked further and found that these women had lower education levels, less prenatal healthcare and higher levels of premature labor than those who did not develop PTSD. Also, the women who had complicated labors and emergency C-sections were most likely to develop PTSD and other anxiety related issues associated with the birth. Modarres explains these finding by theorizing that women with less access to healthcare may have more pregnancy complications, thus increasing their stress related to delivery and contributing to postpartum PTSD. Also, women lower education levels may not be fully aware of the importance prenatal care or be aware of the importance of self-care during and after pregnancy.

Another finding of this study suggests that women with pre-existing stress are at increased risk for postpartum PTSD. Issues such as childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and depression can elevate their chance for a complicated delivery and postnatal mental health problems. Modarres hopes that these results show the importance of prenatal care and how clinicians working with pregnant women can help them. If risk factors for PTSD are identified during pregnancy, especially risks such as existing stress and low maternal education, measures can be taken to help women address these factors. “It seems that a better perinatal care and supportive childbirth might help to reduce the burden of post-partum PTSD among this population,” said Modarres.

Modarres, Maryam, et al. (2013). Prevalence and risk factors of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress symptoms. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 12.1 (2012): 88. ProQuest Family Health. Web.

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  • Adelaide

    March 21st, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    I had to have an emergency C section and what I remember over feeling stressed was just the fact of how thankful that I was that I had such wonderful healthcare and that they were able to save my baby, something that may not have been possible in the past! So I fail to see how if your baby survives you could experience this. How can you be overwhelmed with this kind of stress when you and the baby are fine?

  • Emily

    March 21st, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Adelaide, is it also difficult for you to understand how survivors of earthquakes, hurricanes, or mass shootings go on to develop PTSD? Just because someone is a survivor doesn’t make them immune to PTSD. The definition of trauma is experiencing a situation in which one’s life or the life of a loved one is threatened. You are fortunate to have experienced a successful outcome in a potentially life-threatening emergency situation.

  • fabian

    March 21st, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    most of the factors that could lead to ptsd after childbirth seem preventable. the conditions that could affect could be improved thereby reducing such instances. its sad how we still have issues due to preventable factors and we chase issues that are not as urgent.

  • Ron

    March 22nd, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    I find that this happens a lot when someone feels a loss of control over a situation that they are in, it leaves you feeling so helpless and that is something that can always come back to haunt you

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