Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Childbirth and Narratives: How Do Mothers Deal with Their Child's Birth?

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Childbirth and Narratives: How Do Mothers Deal with Their Child's Birth?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This research focuses on post traumatic stress disorders which arise after childbirth and adds to the literature on psychological post partum diseases. The hypothesis of this study was that psychological expression of negative emotions could reduce the occurrence of stress symptoms after labour and delivery. A group of 64 women with a healthy pregnancy was examined. Half of them were asked to express their emotion experienced during labour and delivery through a written account. The results indicated a significant difference in the number of post traumatic stress symptoms between the two groups, underlining the positive effect of the emotional disclosure.

KEY WORDS: childbirth, PTSD, post partum disorder, written emotional expression.


This study investigated whether written accounts of mothers' experience of their child's birth would reduce the effects of stress that emerge after labour and delivery. Several studies have underlined that childbirth, although it is a natural and positive experience, may be also a very stressful event, causing different kinds of symptoms (more or less serious, short or long term). The disorders described are essentially:

1. "Mood disorders" or "baby blues" (or "maternity blues" or "post partum dysphoria") which usually onset in the first week after childbirth and can last from few hours to several days. Their incidence ranges from 39% to 85% (Stein, 1982; Prezza, Di Mauro, Giudici, Violani, Vaccari & Faustini, 1984; O'Hara, Zekoski, Phillipps & Wrigth, 1990).

2. Post partum depression, which has an incidence fluctuating between 10% and 28%, onset after a few days, weeks or even months from the childbirth and last up to one year (Campbell & Cohon, 1991; Gotlib, Whiffen, Wallace & Mount, 1991; Rossi, Bassi, & Delfino, 1992; Appleby, Gregoire, Platz, Prince & Kumar, 1994; Areias, Kumar, Barros & Figureido, 1996).

3. Puerperal psychosis, which frequently assumes depressive or maniacal clinical characteristics and has an incidence of 1 out of 1000 (O'Hara, 1987; Kruckman & Smith, 1998).

Among possible disorders, little is known about the onset of posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD) as an effect of labour and delivery. Studies on this theme have shown that this disorder arises when labour is long, difficult or when traumatic events, such as complications in the child's state of health, take place (Affleck, Tennen & Rowe, 1991; Manage, 1993; Ballard, Stanley & Brockington, 1995; De Mier, Hynan, Harris, Manniello, 1996; Fones, 1996; Reynolds, 1997). In particular, mothers of high-risk infants who, immediately after their birth must be admitted to neo-natal intensive care units, show many symptoms of post traumatic stress disorders, even months after the discharge of the child (Bydlowsky & Raul-Duval, 1978; De Mier et al., 1996; Hynan, 1998).

However, it is worthwhile highlighting that-as Wijma, Wijma and Soderquist (1997) have noted-even in a case of a regular delivery, a negative cognitive processing of the event may lead to the onset of stress symptoms. In the absence of medical and physical complications, the emotion of fear associated with the perception of not being able to cope with the event, may constitute a risk condition in producing a set of stress symptoms (Wijma, Wijma & Zar, 1998).

The above considerations led us to consider that mothers' experience of their children's birth, given that it is highly charged with anxiety, the fear of physical pain and worry about the child, may be considered a potentially traumatic condition (and not only when associated with condition of risks for the child's health). When an event becomes traumatic, a series of stress symptoms may occur, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (APA, 1994). These symptoms are essentially of three kinds for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): symptoms which lead to the reexperiencing of the traumatic event (Criterion B), symptoms of avoidance and decreasing of general reactivity (Criterion C), symptoms of increased arousal (Criterion D). …

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