Traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) don't just play a role in your mental health, they can also negatively impact a woman's maternal health, says a new study from the University of Michigan.
By analyzing 839 women—41 percent were African-American—from August 2005 to March 2008, researchers found that women with PTSD who suffered abuse during childhood were more likely to have premature babies and give birth to babies who weighed less. Babies born to women with PTSD weighed on average a half pound lighter than babies born to women who did not suffer from PTSD. They also found a strong connection between low birth weight and women who suffered from PTSD due to childhood abuse.
The research also looked at race as a risk factor for PTSD. African-American women are at no greater risk for onset of PTSD, but they are four times more likely to remain affected by the disorder at the time of pregnancy.
"Preterm birth can cause serious health problems for babies," said Julia Seng, a research associate professor at the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender and an associate professor of nursing. "An African-American infant in Michigan is 70 percent more likely to be born prematurely than an infant of any other race. Therefore, PTSD, which affects African-Americans more widely, may be an additional explanation for adverse perinatal outcomes, and it is a problem that is treatable."
African-Americans have more PTSD in pregnancy because they tend to receive less treatment and have more lifetime trauma exposures that may maintain or reactivate PTSD, Seng says. In addition, their average age at pregnancy is younger, which means less time between any abuse and pregnancy.
In addition to past child abuse, researchers found that addiction to drugs and alcohol, domestic-partner violence, rape and living in neighborhoods with higher rates of violence are common factors for PTSD. Also, women who do not have a lot of education and have lower incomes are more likely to suffer from PTSD.
In the end, the researchers hope that their study will encourage more doctors across the U.S. to ask expecting mothers about traumatic events that have happened in the past or are currently happening now in their lives. "It is essential that outcomes are improved in this high-risk group of women. Maternity care needs to take traumatic stress into account with awareness being raised among health workers," Seng told Health News.
This study is one of many to come out in the past year about Black women's maternal health, and I am grateful for it, because our outcomes and our babies' outcomes are not faring too well. And unfortunately, not enough people are aware of how serious these disparities are. Over the past couple of months, BET.com reported that there were two studies—one from California and one from New York—that found that the childbirth and pregnancy-related deaths among Black women rival those in some developing countries.
Recently, NPR's "All Things Considered" reported on the issue of Black maternal health. Please listen that podcast or read the article here. To learn more about maternal deaths and how they can be prevented, go here.
(Photo: The Record/MCT/Landov)