If your baby is in intensive care, you’re at higher risk of PTSD

A new study, published in the Journal of Perinatology, looks at the factors that predict post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in new mothers.

Frustratingly, I can’t link to the full article, as it requires payment. I can only link to the abstract, which is short, but tantalising.

The authors compared the incidence of PTSD in women whose babies were in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU), which is where very premature or sick babies are placed after birth. They found that a quarter (25%) of these mothers experienced PTSD, compared with nine percent of the mothers whose babies were healthy. (Nine percent is still a lot – the figure most commonly given for the rate of PTSD after birth is between one and three percent.)

There are all sorts of interesting questions to ask about this (How many mothers were included in the study? What other factors did they look at? How did they define PTSD?) that for now will remain unanswered. But the knowledge that one in four women with a very premature or sick baby will develop symptoms of PTSD is startling.

The authors conclude by recommending that mothers of “high-risk infants” (ie newborns who are very ill) are regularly screened for PTSD.

While health professionals are now much more alert to the possibility of postnatal depression in new mothers, they are less likely to spot that they might have PTSD. This study provides valuable evidence that PTSD is very common, particularly among high-risk groups – and health professionals need to watch out for it.

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