Rethinking Healthcare

One-third of women develop PTSD from childbirth

One-third of women develop PTSD from childbirth

Posting in Technology

Delivery can qualify as a traumatic event, says a group of Israeli researchers.

A new study from Israeli researchers puts childbirth in the company of war, rape, and natural disasters as a common cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (pdf).

Not exactly the reference frame we'd like to give our entrance into the world, but the authors write that for mothers the birthing experience can easily conform to the the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for PTSD:

The required criteria include experiencing, witnessing or confronting an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others. In addition, the person's response must involve intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

That last criteria is clearly a matter of experience, but the researchers found that more than a third of the women they studied showed at least symptoms of PTSD. Women with PTSD symptoms after delivery were more likely to have experienced:

  • vaginal delivery
  • fewer analgesics with stronger reported pain
  • more discomfort with feeling exposed while giving birth
  • stronger feelings of danger
  • higher rates of not wanting additional children

Granted, the study had a disappointingly low sample size - only 89 women - but it brings two main thoughts to my mind. One, I'm grateful to these researchers for acknowledging childbirth as a challenging, sometimes traumatic event. Two, I'm concerned with the effects of birthing trauma could have on a baby's future development, similar to the way that pregnancy stress has been show to negatively impact growth and function (pdf).

What can we do to make delivery less terrible? Better pain management? More personal birthing settings? Better pre-birth counseling? Let us know what you think in our comments section below.

Photo: Nathan Beier/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure