Pregnancy and childbirth

What are trauma characteristics?

For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, at least one trauma is required. Traumas as determined by the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) include being exposed to threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence. Examples are direct exposure, witnessing the trauma, or learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. Trauma characteristics, along with personal characteristics, influence the risk of developing PTSD following exposure.

What is the evidence for risk of PTSD following or during pregnancy and childbirth?

Moderate quality evidence found the prevalence of PTSD in community samples of prenatal women is around 3.3%, and postpartum PTSD was around 4%. Rates were higher in high-risk samples of women who had difficult births or pregnancies or had babies with fetal anomalies (prenatal PTSD = 18.95%, postpartum PTSD = 18.5%).

Moderate to high quality evidence found the pre-birth risk factors associated with PTSD (in descending order of effect) were depression in pregnancy, fear of childbirth, history of PTSD, poor health or complications, receiving counselling for pregnancy/birth, having previous psychological problems, less education, less social support, history of sexual trauma, ethnicity, history of any trauma, higher parity, planned pregnancy, and younger age. At-birth risk factors associated with PTSD were negative subjective birth experiences, an operative birth, lack of support from staff, negative emotions, dissociation, infant-related complications, lack of control or agency, pain, and short length of labour. Post-birth risk factors associated with PTSD were depression after childbirth, poor coping and stress, poor mental health, anxiety, and physical complications. No associations were found with marital status, socio-economic status, emotional health, time since birth, or presence of partner/companion at birth.

August 2021

Image: ©Maria Sbytova –

Last updated at: 12:45 am, 6th August 2021
To view documentation related to this topic download the files below
Fact Sheet Technical Commentary
Tags:  Depression

NeuRA Libraries

Title Colour Legend:
Green - Topic summary is available.
Orange - Topic summary is being compiled.
Red - Topic summary has no current systematic review available.