December 2015 Research Update

Psychological and somatic sequelae of traumatic vaginal delivery: A literature review

Elizabeth M. Skinner and Hans P. Dietz


This literature review seeks to examine current knowledge of birth trauma associated with major pelvic floor dysfunction by interpreting and critically appraising existing published material. A search of the literature for peer reviewed journal articles was conducted between September and December 2013 of the following databases: PubMed; Wiley Online; MEDLINE; OvidSP; ScienceDirect; MD Consult Australia; Biomed Central; Sage; Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Unpublished interviews from mothers who attended two tertiary teaching hospitals in Sydney, Australia and international Internet blogs/websites were also utilised. Maternal birth trauma seems to be a common cause of pelvic floor dysfunction. Women who have sustained birth trauma to the levator ani muscle or the anal sphincters are often injured more seriously than generally believed. There often is a substantial latency between trauma and the manifestation of symptoms. Urinary and faecal incontinence, prolapse and sexual dysfunction are commonly seen as too embarrassing to discuss with clinicians, and frequently, new mothers have inaccurate recollections of obstetric procedures that occurred without much explanation or explicit consent. Moreover, somatic trauma may contribute to psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. The link between somatic and psychological trauma is poorly understood.


An Evidence Review and Model for Prevention and Treatment of Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Vesel, J., & Nickasch, B.


Postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder (P-PTSD) is a variant of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that, although relatively prevalent, is under-researched. Up to one-third of women in the United States describe childbirth as traumatic, with 9 percent of women meeting the criteria for PTSD outlined by the American Psychiatric Association. These statistics are sobering in light of common use of analgesia during birth as well as hospital birth environments promoting family-centered maternity care. How can a seemingly natural event, such as childbirth, be associated with PTSD? This review includes a description of key variables associated with P-PTSD. Socioeconomic, environmental and genetic determinants are discussed, as are evidence-based prevention and treatment approaches.


Blasio PD, Camisasca E, Caravita SC, Ionio C, Milani L, Valtolina GG.


-This study investigated whether an Expressive Writing intervention decreased depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms after childbirth. 113 women (M age = 31.26 yr., SD = 4.42) were assessed at Time 1 for depression (Beck Depression Inventory) and PTS (Perinatal PTSD Questionnaire) in the first days after childbirth, then randomized to either expressive writing or neutral writing conditions and reassessed at Time 2, 3 months later. The results (ANCOVAs, regression models) show that at 3 mo. depressive and posttraumatic symptoms were lower in women who performed the expressive writing task than in the neutral writing group. Moreover, the intervention condition was associated significantly with decreased depression at the high and at the mean levels of baseline depression at Time 1. Regarding PTSD, the results showed that the intervention condition was linked significantly to reductions of the symptoms at all levels of baseline PTSD. Mainly, these outcomes suggest that Expressive Writing can be a helpful early and low-cost universal intervention to prevent postpartum distress for women.

Women’s experiences of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after traumatic childbirth: a review and critical appraisal.

James S.


This paper critically analyses nine studies on postnatal posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following traumatic childbirth, in order to find common themes of PTSD symptoms, using the cognitive model of PTSD as a guide; it critically appraised one of the studies in depth and it attempted to explain the lived experience of women suffering from postnatal PTSD following traumatic childbirth and the suitability of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for postnatal PTSD. This paper found that women following traumatic childbirth do experience postnatal PTSD; postnatal PTSD symptoms are similar to PTSD symptoms of other events and that CBT for PTSD of other events is just as effective for postnatal PTSD. Future recommendations include more qualitative studies with interpretative phenomenological approach in order to establish evidence-based CBT treatment for this client group, and more referrals need to be sent to the psychological services for CBT intervention.



Elizabeth Skinner

Taken from Montreal International Continence Society (ICS) on 7 October 2015

One Response

  1. Maureen Treadwell at |

    Never truer statements than ‘The link between somatic and psychological trauma is poorly understood’ and ‘Women who have sustained birth trauma to the levator ani muscle or the anal sphincters are often injured more seriously than generally believed’. Traumatic vaginal birth, followed by the embarrassment and isolation that results from pelvic floor and anal injury, is a major contributor to psychological problems post partum. Moreover, because as you rightly conclude, the effects are not immediate, maternity services are failing to recognise their impact and commissioners are not counting the cost of these injuries. Not all PTSD can be avoided but here is one area where there is scope for prevention so thank you for an important literature review. Maureen Treadwell Birth Trauma Association


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