One-third of Israeli Women Experience Post-traumatic Symptoms After Giving Birth, Study Finds

Some 80% of women experiencing such symptoms had natural births; 80% suffered from a negative body image as children.

A team of Israeli researchers has found that over a third of new mothers experienced post-traumatic symptoms after giving birth.

Post-trauma among new mothers is distinguished from postpartum depression, which is characterized by symptoms of post-trauma, including anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping and avoidance of stressful events (including doctor and hospital visits).

The study was based on a random sample of 89 Israeli women between the ages of 20 and 40. Women who participated in the study responded to questions about post-traumatic symptoms immediately after giving birth and in the month that followed.

Three women (3.4%) were officially diagnosed as suffering from post-trauma, 7 (7.8%) suffered from partial post-trauma, and 23 (25.9%) displayed symptoms of post-trauma without being diagnosed with the disorder.

Of the women suffering from post-traumatic symptoms, 80% had suffered from a negative body image in their childhood, characterized by a feeling of discomfort when unclothed, as opposed to 27.7% of the women in the group who did not report symptoms.

Some 67% of women with post-traumatic symptoms had previously experienced pregnancies which they described as difficult or traumatic, compared to 15.5% of those who did not suffer symptoms.

Surprisingly, among the women with post-traumatic symptoms, 80% had gone through natural births and 20% had pre-planned Caesarian sections, but none had experienced unplanned C-sections.

Among women who did not develop symptoms, 48.8% had experienced natural births, while 22.6% had pre-planned C-sections and 26.2% had undergone unplanned S-sections.

The study did not find a link between the risk of developing post-traumatic stress after giving birth and socioeconomic factors, marital status, number of children, education level, religion or support from a birthing assistant.

The study found that women who exhibited post-traumatic symptoms also had a greater tendency toward paranoia. This finding is consistent with a decade-old study by UN forces stationed in the former Yugoslavia.

The study was conducted by a team led by Dr. Inbal Shlomi Polchek of Be'er Yaakov Psychiatric Hospital, with the participation of researchers from the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University and the Ramat Chen Community Psychiatric Clinic in Ramat Gan. The results were published this month in the HIstadrut's medical journal IMAJ.

According to the researchers, the widespread extent of the phenomenon, as documented, requires further study and greater allocation of resources for treatment. They recommended developing cognitive treatment methods for women experiencing symptoms of trauma after giving birth, in order to prevent post-trauma from setting in later.

The researchers also recommended offering women pain relievers during and after birth, which can reduce the risk of the phenomenon. "More focus must be put on the personal experience of the women giving birth during the birth itself, as an indicator that can predict future post-traumatic symptoms," said the researchers.

Haaretz recently reported that the Health Ministry has begun implementing a new national program for treating postpartum depression, through the country's well-baby clinics. A study conducted in 2006 by the Gertner Institute and the General Health Services found that 9.1% of Israeli women suffer from the condition.

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The maternity ward in Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital.
Ilan Assayag