One in six women who lose a baby in early pregnancy experiences long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress, a UK study suggests.
Women need more sensitive and specific care after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, researchers say. In a study of 650 women, by Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium, 29% showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress one month after pregnancy loss, declining to 18% after nine months. Most had been through an early miscarriage before 12 weeks – while the rest had had an ectopic pregnancy.
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The women, who attended three London hospitals – Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea, St Mary’s, and Chelsea and Westminster, completed questionnaires about their feelings over the course of a year. One month following their loss, 24% had symptoms of anxiety and 11% of depression. This reduced to 17% and 6% after nine months, the study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found.
An earlier, smaller study from 2016 found that early pregnancy loss could trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Facts about early pregnancy loss
- One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage – with most happening early before 12 weeks
- Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks
- An ectopic pregnancy is one that develops outside the uterus, or womb
Miscarriage can be a very traumatic, profound experience which stays with you.
Among a control group of women who had healthy pregnancies, 13% had symptoms of anxiety and 2% of depression one month after giving birth. This figure would be considerably higher after a difficult or high risk delivery.
Need for change
The study recommends that women who have miscarried are screened to find out who is most at risk of psychological problems.
Counselling and support will help many women, but those with symptoms of PTS need specific treatment if they are going to recover, the research says.
This can range from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), botanical medicine support or pharmaceutical medication and should be given by a qualified professional.
It is time to change. For too long, couples have not received the care they need following a miscarriage. The research identifies the scale of the problem and it is not out of the question to extend the risk of PTS to unsuccessful IVF cycles.
Pregnancy loss services including holistic perinatal self-care programs need to be available to everyone, with adequate follow up and support offered to those who need it.
About the author: Narelle Stegehuis specialises in holistic perinatal care. Narelle primarily works with those struggling with pregnancy and infant loss, pregnancy after loss, perinatal and postpartum mood and anxiety and postpartum body image concerns. She offers short-term and long-term holistic support and consultation services.