Research Update

Apologies for not posting for a while, we have been very busy but will be posting more often from now on.

Here is an update of the research that has been published whilst we have been away:

Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Following Childbirth

Vossbeck-Elsebusch, A. N., Freisfeld, C., Ehring, T. (2014)

Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth has gained growing attention in the recent years. Although a number of predictors for PTSD following childbirth have been identified (e.g., history of sexual trauma, emergency caesarean section, low social support), only very few studies have tested predictors derived from current theoretical models of the disorder. This study first aimed to replicate the association of PTSD symptoms after childbirth with predictors identified in earlier research. Second, cognitive predictors derived from Ehlers and Clark’s (2000) model of PTSD were examined. Methods: N = 224 women who had recently given birth completed an online survey. In addition to computing single correlations between PTSD symptom severities and variables of interest, in a hierarchical multiple regression analyses posttraumatic stress symptoms were predicted by (1) prenatal variables, (2) birth-related variables, (3) postnatal social support, and (4) cognitive variables. Results: Wellbeing during pregnancy and age were the only prenatal variables contributing significantly to the explanation of PTSD symptoms in the first step of the regression analysis. In the second step, the birth-related variables peritraumatic emotions and wellbeing during childbed significantly increased the explanation of variance. Despite showing significant bivariate correlations, social support entered in the third step did not predict PTSD symptom severities over and above the variables included in the first two steps. However, with the exception of peritraumatic dissociation all cognitive variables emerged as powerful predictors and increased the amount of variance explained from 43% to a total amount of 68%. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the prediction of PTSD following childbirth can be improved by focusing on variables derived from a current theoretical model of the disorder.


Infant Development Outcomes: A Family Systems Perspective

Parfitt, Y., Pike, A., & Ayers, S. (2014)

The aim of the current study was to examine whether parental mental health, parent–infant relationship, infant characteristics and couple’s relationship factors were associated with the infant’s development. Forty-two families took part at three time points. The first, at 3 months postpartum, involved a video recorded observation (CARE-index) of parent–infant interactions. At 5 months postpartum, in-depth clinical interviews (the Birmingham Interview of Maternal Mental Health) assessed parental mental health and parental perceptions of their relationship with their infant, their partner and their infant’s characteristics. Finally, the Bayley Scales III was carried out 17 months postpartum to assess the infants’ cognitive, language and motor development. A higher mother–infant relationship quality was significantly associated with more optimal language development, whilst a higher father–infant relationship quality was associated with more advanced motor development. Additionally, maternal postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder had a negative impact on the infant’s cognitive development, whilst maternal prenatal depression was associated with a less optimal infant’s language development. The largest prediction was afforded by parental perceptions of their infant’s characteristics. The findings indicate that such perceptions may be crucial for the infant’s development and imply that negative internal parental perceptions should be considered when assessing risk factors or designing interventions to prevent negative child outcomes.


Prevalence and risk factors of postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis.

Grekin, R., & O’Hara, M. W. (2014).

Research has demonstrated that women develop postpartum PTSD. Prevalence of postpartum PTSD has ranged from 1% to 30%, and many risk factors have been identified as predictors of postpartum PTSD. While qualitative reviews have identified patterns of risk, the lack of quantitative reviews prevents the field from identifying specific risk factors and making a single estimate of the prevalence of postpartum PTSD. The current meta-analysis investigated prevalence and risk factors of postpartum PTSD, both due to childbirth and other events, among community and targeted samples. Prevalence of postpartum PTSD in community samples was estimated to be 3.1% and in at-risk samples at 15.7%. Important risk factors in community samples included current depression, labor experiences such as interactions with medical staff, as well as a history of psychopathology. In at-risk samples, impactful risk factors included current depression and infant complications. Further research should investigate how attitudes towards pregnancy and childbirth may interact with women’s experiences during delivery. Additionally, studies need to begin to evaluate possible long-term effects that these symptoms may have on women and their families.


The influence of women’s preferences and actual mode of delivery on post-traumatic stress symptoms following childbirth: a population-based, longitudinal study.

Garthus-Niegel, S., von Soest, T., Knoph, C., Simonsen, T. B., Torgersen, L., & Eberhard-Gran, M. (2014)

This study aimed to examine whether a mismatch between a woman’s preferred and actual mode of delivery increases the risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms after childbirth. The study sample consisted of 1,700 women scheduled to give birth between 2009 and 2010 at Akershus University Hospital, Norway. Questionnaire data from pregnancy weeks 17 and 32 and from 8 weeks postpartum were used along with data obtained from hospital birth records. Post-traumatic stress symptoms were measured with the Impact of Event Scale. Based on the women’s preferred and actual mode of delivery, four groups were established: Match 1 (no preference for cesarean section, no elective cesarean section, N = 1,493); Match 2 (preference for cesarean section, elective cesarean section, N = 53); Mismatch 1 (no preference for cesarean section, elective cesarean section, N = 42); and Mismatch 2 (preference for cesarean section, no elective cesarean section, N = 112). Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) were conducted to examine whether the level of post-traumatic stress symptoms differed significantly among these four groups. Examining differences for all four groups, ANOVA yielded significant overall group differences (F = 11.96, p < 0.001). However, Bonferroni post-hoc tests found significantly higher levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms only in Mismatch 2 compared to Match 1. This difference could be partly explained by a number of risk factors, particularly psychological risk factors such as fear of childbirth, depression, and anxiety. The results suggest increased post-traumatic stress symptoms in women who preferred delivery by cesarean section but delivered vaginally compared to women who both preferred vaginal delivery and delivered vaginally. In psychologically vulnerable women, such mismatch may threaten their physical integrity and, in turn, result in post-traumatic stress symptoms. These women, who often fear childbirth, may prefer a cesarean section even though vaginal delivery is usually the best option in the absence of medical indications. To avoid potential trauma, fear of childbirth and maternal requests for a cesarean section should be taken seriously and responded to adequately.


The birth memories and recall questionnaire (BirthMARQ): development and evaluation

Foley, S.Crawley, R., Wilkie, S. & Ayers, S. (2014)

Childbirth is a challenging and emotive experience that is accompanied by strong positive and/or negative emotions. Memories of birth may be associated with how women cognitively process birth events postpartum and potentially their adaptation to parenthood. Characteristics of memories for birth may also be associated with postnatal psychological wellbeing. This paper reports the development and evaluation of a questionnaire to measure characteristics of memories of childbirth and to examine the relationship between memories for birth and mental health. The Birth Memories and Recall Questionnaire (BirthMARQ) was developed by generating items from literature reviews and general measures of memory characteristics to cover dimensions relevant to childbirth. Fifty nine items were administered to 523 women in the first year after childbirth (M = 23.7 weeks) as part of an online study of childbirth. Validity of the final scale was checked by examining differences between women with and without probable depression and PTSD. Principal components analysis identified 23 items representing six aspects of memory accounting for 64% of the variance. These were: Emotional memory, Centrality of memory to identity, Coherence, Reliving, Involuntary recall, and Sensory memory. Reliability was good (M alpha = .80). Women with probable depression or PTSD reported more emotional memory, centrality of memories and involuntary recall. Women with probable depression also reported more reliving, and those with probable PTSD reported less coherence and sensory memory. The results suggest the BirthMARQ is a coherent and valid measure of the characteristics of memory for childbirth which may be important in postnatal mood and psychopathology. While further testing of its reliability and validity is needed, it is a measure capable of becoming a valuable tool for examining memory characteristics in the important context of childbirth.


Prevention of Traumatic Stress in Mothers of Preterms: 6-Month Outcomes

Shaw, R. J., St. John, N., Lilo, E., Jo, B., Benitz, W., Stevenson, D. K., & Horwitz, S. M. (2014).

Objective: Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder are a well-recognized phenomenon in mothers of preterm infants, with implications for maternal health and infant outcomes. This randomized controlled trial evaluated 6-month outcomes from a skills-based intervention developed to reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Method: One hundred five mothers of preterm infants were randomly assigned to (1) a 6- or 9-session intervention based on principles of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy with infant redefinition or (2) a 1-session active comparison intervention based on education about the NICU and parenting of the premature infant. Outcome measures included the Davidson Trauma Scale, the Beck Depression Inventory II, and the Beck Anxiety Inventory. Participants were assessed at baseline, 4 to 5 weeks after birth, and 6 months after the birth of the infant. Results: At the 6-month assessment, the differences between the intervention and comparison condition were all significant and sizable and became more pronounced when compared with the 4- to 5-week outcomes: Davidson Trauma Scale (Cohen’s d = −0.74, P < .001), Beck Anxiety Inventory (Cohen’s d = −0.627, P = .001), Beck Depression Inventory II (Cohen’s d = −0.638, P = .002). However, there were no differences in the effect sizes between the 6- and 9-session interventions. Conclusions:  A brief 6-session intervention based on principles of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy was effective at reducing symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and depression in mothers of preterm infants. Mothers showed increased benefits at the 6-month follow-up, suggesting that they continue to make use of techniques acquired during the intervention phase.


Prevention of Postpartum Traumatic Stress in Mothers with Preterm Infants: Manual Development and Evaluation

Shaw, R. J., Brecht, C. J., St. John, N., Lilo, E., Corcoran, J., Jo, B., Howell, S., Benitz, W., Feinstein, N. F., Melnyk, B., & Horwitz, S. M. (2014)

Premature birth has been associated with multiple adverse maternal psychological outcomes that include depression, anxiety, and trauma as well as adverse effects on maternal coping ability and parenting style. Infants and children who are premature are more likely to have poorer cognitive and developmental functioning and, thus, may be harder to parent. In response to these findings, there have been a number of educational and behavioral interventions developed that target maternal psychological functioning, parenting and aspects of the parent-infant relationship. The current study aimed to both develop and evaluate a treatment that integrates, for the first time, effective interventions for both reducing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as enhancing maternal-infant interactions. Conclusions from the study indicate that the intervention is feasible, able to be implemented with a high level of fidelity, and is rated as highly satisfactory by participants. Though encouraging, these findings are preliminary, and future studies should strive to reproduce these findings with a larger sample size and a comparison group.


Childbirth and criteria for traumatic events

Boorman, R. J., Devilly, G. J., Gamble, J., Creedy, D. K., Fenwick, J. (2014)

Objective: For some women childbirth is physically and psychologically traumatic and meets Criterion A1 (threat) and A2 (intense emotional response) for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).This study differentiates Criterion A1 and A2 to explore their individual relationship to prevalence rates for posttraumatic stress, each other, and associated factors for childbirth trauma. Design and Setting: women were recruited at three hospitals from October 2008 to October 2009. Questionnaires were completed at recruitment and at 14 days post partum. Participants: women in the third trimester of pregnancy (n=890) were recruited by a research midwife while waiting for their antenatal clinic appointment. Participants were over 17 years of age, expected to give birth to a live infant, not undergoing psychological treatment, and able to complete questionnaires in English. Findings: this study found 14.3% of women met criteria for a traumatic childbirth. When the condition of A2 was removed, the prevalence rate doubled to 29.4%. Approximately half the women who perceived threat in childbirth did not have an intense negative emotional response. Predictors of finding childbirth traumatic were pre-existing psychiatric morbidity, being a first time mother and experiencing an emergency caesarean section. Conclusions: the fear response is an important diagnostic criterion for assessing psychologically traumatic childbirth. The identification of risk factors may inform maternity service delivery to prevent traumatic birth and postpartum approaches to care to address long-term negative consequences. Implications for Practice: prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth are improved through knowledge of potential risk factors and understanding the woman’s subjective experience.


Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Social Supports Among Parents of Premature and Full-Term Infants

Ghorbani, M., Dolatian, M., Shams, J., & Alavi-Majd, H. (2014)

Background: Premature birth is one of the most important unresolved reproductive health problems. Premature birth is often traumatic and a source of distress for parents. Increased parental stress during the first year of their infant’s life is a risk factor for later behavioral problems in infants. Objectives: This study was designed to compare anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and social supports in parents of premature and mature infants. Patients and Methods: This was a comparative descriptive study conducted at healthcare centers of Qom city, in 2012. In this study, 82 couples (164 parents) divided into two groups including parents who have preterm and term infants. Questionnaires including items such as demographic characteristics, obstetric and post-traumatic stress disorders, Spielberger anxiety and Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support were completed two months after childbirth. Data were analyzed using χ2 test, Fisher’s exact test, Mann-Whitney test, independent t-test, and regression logistic using SPSS18 software. Results: The levels of anxiety was not significantly different in mothers and fathers in the two groups, but the trait anxiety level of mothers (P < 0.001) and fathers who had preterm infants (P = 0.01) was significantly greater than the parents of full-term infants. Post-traumatic stress disorder was significantly greater in mothers of preterm infants than those of term infants (P = 0.03), but this amount was not significantly different between the two groups of fathers. Mothers’ social support did not differ significantly (P = 0.08), however, it was significantly different in fathers (P = 0.01). Conclusions: Premature infants’ parents are more at risk of mental disorders than term infants’ parents. This result shows the need of interventions, so these parents can better deal with the problems of premature infants.


The relationship between severe maternal morbidity and psychological health symptoms at 6–8 weeks postpartum: a prospective cohort study in one English maternity unit

Furuta, M., Sandall, J., Cooper, D., & Bick, D. (2014).

Background: The incidence of severe maternal morbidity is increasing in high-income countries. However, little has been known about the impact on postnatal morbidity, particularly on psychological health outcomes. The objective of this study was to assess the relationship between severe maternal morbidity (ie. major obstetric haemorrhage, severe hypertensive disorders or intensive care unit/obstetric high dependency unit admission) and postnatal psychological health symptoms, focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms at 6–8 weeks postpartum. Method: A prospective cohort study was undertaken of women who gave birth over six months in 2010 in an inner city maternity unit in England. Primary outcomes were prevalence of PTSD symptoms namely: 1) intrusion and 2) avoidance as measured using the Impact of Event Scale at 6–8 weeks postpartum via a self-administered postal questionnaire. Secondary outcomes included probable depression. Data on incidence of severe maternal morbidity were extracted from maternity records. Multivariable logistic regression analysis examined the relationship between severe maternal morbidity and PTSD symptoms taking into account factors that might influence the relationship. Results: Of women eligible to participate (n=3509), 52% responded. Prevalence of a clinically significant level of intrusion and avoidance were 6.4% (n=114) and 8.4% (n=150) respectively. There was a higher risk of PTSD symptoms among women who experienced severe maternal morbidity compared with women who did not (adjusted OR = 2.11, 95%CI = 1.17-3.78 for intrusion; adjusted OR = 3.28, 95%CI = 2.01-5.36 for avoidance). Higher ratings of reported sense of control during labour/birth partially mediated the risk of PTSD symptoms. There were no statistically significant differences in the prevalence or severity of symptoms of depression. Conclusion: This is one of the largest studies to date of PTSD symptoms among women who had recently given birth. Findings showed that an experience of severe maternal morbidity was independently associated with symptoms of PTSD. Individually tailored care that increases women’s sense of control during labour may be a protective factor with further work required to promote effective interventions to prevent these symptoms. Findings have importantimplications for women’s health and the content and organisation of maternity services during and after the birth


From prematurity to parenting stress: The mediating role of perinatal post-traumatic stress disorder

Suttora, C., Spinelli, M., & Monzani, D. (2014)

Preterm delivery may lead to the emergence of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD), which may, in turn, affect the quality of the mother-child relationship. The aim of this study is to shed light on the development of parenting stress in mothers of preterm and full-term children. It is hypothesized that PTSD symptoms mediate the relationship between preterm/full-term birth and the levels of parenting stress. Perinatal PTSD, parenting stress and social support were assessed in 156 mothers of full-term children and 87 mothers of preterm children. Mothers of preterm children experienced more post-traumatic stress and parenting stress than mothers of full-term children. However, the relationship between preterm delivery and subsequent levels of parenting stress was mediated by PTSD symptoms. These findings suggest that the maternal perception of childbirth as a traumatic experience and the subsequent development of PTSD symptoms are pivotal in the emergence of parenting stress.


Post-traumatic stress symptoms after childbirth and early mother–child interactions: an exploratory study

Ionio, C., & Di Blasio, P. (2014)

Background: It is well known that mother–child relationships may be affected by maternal psychological disorders, but, at present, few experimental studies have investigated the negative impact of postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms on child behaviour using the Still Face paradigm. Objective: The aim of this exploratory work is to investigate whether postpartum stress symptoms may affect mother–child relationships. The underlying hypothesis is that the persistence of postpartum stress symptoms may have a negative outcome on the mother’s tuning with the child. Methods: A sample of 19 pregnant women (mean age = 31.31; SD = 4.50) attended the four phases of the research, from the seventh month of pregnancy. Maternal personality characteristics were assessed by MMPI-2. The Perinatal PTSD Questionnaire was used to assess PTSD symptoms two days and two months after delivery. Three months after childbirth the dyads attended the Still Face paradigm. Results: Data have shown that the persistence of PTSD symptoms has a different effect on early mother–child interactions than those of mothers who have not had postpartum stress symptoms. Conclusion: These data allow us to hypothesise that there are some baseline difficulties in women with PTSD symptoms in producing a positive interactive engagement, not only in relation to the break of interaction caused by the Still episode.