Post-traumatic stress severity differs among pregnant women

By Rebecca Burton • Published: May 24th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Women who have experienced a traumatic life experience such as domestic abuse, a natural disaster or sexual assault often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Studies show that approximately 10 percent of women will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

So researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Nursing wanted to investigate whether PTSD symptoms were more intense during pregnancy, a time in a woman’s life that is typically full of joy.

The study found that for most women, pregnancy actually reduces PTSD symptoms — or at least does not make them worse. The findings were published recently in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

During the study, the research team interviewed 319 women with PTSD at two points in their pregnancy. About half the women were interviewed for a third time about six weeks after giving birth. More than half the women exhibited high-intensity PTSD symptoms in the first part of their pregnancy, but ultimately experienced a decrease in symptoms as their due date approached. The women who had low-intensity PTSD remained mostly the same throughout the study. But some women with low-intensity PTSD experienced an increase in symptoms, likely related to anxiety about giving birth.

Not all the news is good: Researchers found that symptoms worsen in about one-fourth of women with PTSD as the pregnancy goes on. For these women, pregnancy intensified PTSD anxiety and affected their ability to bond with their new child. Those women also had a high risk of developing postpartum depression.

Researchers said the findings underscore the need for PTSD screening among pregnant women who have had a traumatic life event.