Self-Blame, Rumination, and the Trauma of Birth

Women who self-blame and ruminate risk developing PTSD after birth

Posted May 07, 2018

@DerekThomson/Unsplash
Source: @DerekThomson/Unsplash

Birth is miraculous, but not always simple. For some, the difficulties of birth last long after the baby is born.

Looking at almost 200 first-time moms, new research published in the Journal of Maternal-fetal and Neonatal Medicine found that many of them experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

  • 1% of the women experienced full-blown PTSD after they gave birth.
  • 5% of the women experienced partial PTSD.
  • 21% of the women experienced one PTSD symptom.

These statistics paint a disturbing picture when considering that PTSD, a disorder which is developed as a result of severe mental trauma, can have detrimental implications for women’s mental health, and their ability to transition into parenthood.

Beyond just identifying the prevalence of this issue, the researchers also sought to identify the factors which could make women more vulnerable to developing PTSD.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the medical challenges during birth did not predict whether or not the woman would develop PTSD symptoms. Instead, the main factor that determined whether or not women developed PTSD was their thinking style, as women who had negative thinking styles were more likely to develop PTSD symptoms. The two most harmful thinking styles were self-blame and rumination, which is the tendency to re-play events and issues in your mind, over and over again.

In light of this research, a new question that arises is how these findings could be implemented in practice, in order to help protect women during a stage in life where they are vulnerable. A welcome option would be for researchers to develop a psychological intervention which could help modify the negative thinking style that promotes the occurrence of PTSD. However, there is the danger that such an intervention might promote an accusatory state of mind, where people believe that all one has to do in order to step out of the debilitating mental issues surrounding her birth is simply think in a more positive way.

References

Yeela Tomsis, Marc Gelkopf, Hanoch Yerushalmi & Yaniv Zipori (2017) Different coping strategies influence the development of PTSD among first-time mothers, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 31:10, 1304-1310

https://doi.org/10.1080/14767058.2017.1315658