There is much controversy over whether childbirth can actually be considered a “traumatic event”. Although childbirth is not a sudden unexpected event, it can cause very real and justified fear of danger in women. A new study by Tel Aviv University researchers has revealed that one third of postpartum women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to some degree. Typically, PTSD is associated with traumatic life events such as war or terrorist attacks however, it can be brought on by certain normal life events such as childbirth.
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The study, published in the Israel Medical Association Journal, states, “During childbirth, many women experience a real fear of physical harm or death to themselves or their baby.” Such feelings could easily qualify for PTSD symptoms as the DSM IV guidelines state the following criteria:
The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have been present:
- The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.
- The person’s response involved intense fear,helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.
The study interviewed 89 women between the ages of 20-40 years of age. They were first interviewed shortly after delivery and then again one month after delivery. What they discovered is that 25.9% of the women showed symptoms of PTSD, 7.8% had partial PTSD, and 3.4% had full-blown PTSD. This shows that PTSD is much more prevalent than previously thought. Pain management seemed to be largest factor contributing to the PTSD symptoms. 80 percent of the women who experienced partial or full-blown PTSD symptoms had delivered naturally without any form of pain control. Another interesting factor was that 80% of the women in the PTSD group felt discomfort about being unclothed and 67% had pregnancies which they described as traumatic. Interestingly, having the support of a partner or a doula did not seem to affect the statistics.
The study concludes that more research needs to be done in this area, but suggests that doctors need to make themselves more familiar with potential symptoms of PTSD in their patients. Something as simple as a questionnaire to assess the mother’s feelings about their experience might be a step in the right direction. Another important factor for doctors to consider is the dignity of the mother and that they are appropriately covered during childbirth. Prof. Rael Strous, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, said, “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.”