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CMAJ. 1997 Mar 15;156(6):831-5.

Post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth: the phenomenon of traumatic birth.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, University of Western Ontario, London.


CHILDBIRTH CAN BE A VERY PAINFUL EXPERIENCE, often associated with feelings of being out of control. It should not, therefore, be surprising that childbirth may be traumatic for some women. Most women recover quickly post partum; others appear to have a more difficult time. The author asserts that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may occur after childbirth. He calls this variant of PTSD a "traumatic birth experience." There is very little literature on this topic. The evidence available is from case series, qualitative research and studies of women seeking elective cesarean section for psychologic reasons. Elective cesarean section exemplifies the avoidance behaviour typical of PTSD. There are many ways that health care professionals, including physicians, obstetric nurses, midwives, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, can address this phenomenon. These include taking a careful history to determine whether a woman has experienced trauma that could place her at risk for a traumatic birth experience; providing excellent pain control during childbirth and careful postpartum care that includes understanding the woman's birth experience; and ruling out postpartum depression. Much more research is needed in this area.

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