Being pregnant may decrease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some women, new research suggests.
PTSD can be caused by a traumatic event such as combat, traffic crashes, robbery, sexual assault, childhood or domestic abuse, natural disasters and house fires.
The new study included 319 pregnant women with the stress disorder. Those with high levels of PTSD in early pregnancy saw symptoms decrease as they got closer to giving birth, the findings showed.
Among women with low levels of symptoms, there was little change early on, the investigators found. But PTSD symptoms worsened in about one in four of these women as their pregnancy progressed.
The study authors pointed out that this can affect women’s ability to bond with their newborns and may raise the risk for postpartum depression.
Women with the strongest social support during pregnancy were less likely to have worsening PTSD symptoms, the study found. This indicates that partners, relatives and friends can play an important role, according to the University of Michigan researchers.
The study was published recently in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
“We hope our results give a message of hope that women who have a past diagnosis of PTSD aren’t all headed for a worsening while they’re pregnant,” study leader and psychiatrist Dr. Maria Muzik said in a university news release.
“But we also have highlighted a vulnerable group that has a heightened risk of worsening symptom and postnatal issues that could have lasting effects for both mother and child,” she added.
Many women may have undiagnosed PTSD before pregnancy, and doctors should screen for the disorder as part of regular prenatal care, Muzik suggested.
“With a few questions and screening measures, they can identify women who are experiencing risk factors, and heighten their awareness for support and treatment,” she said.
“Preventing the worsening of symptoms could reduce their chance of post-birth illness, and protect their future child from the lasting ill effects that a mother’s mental illness can have,” Muzik added.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about PTSD.