Postnatal posttraumatic stress: A grounded theory model of first-time mothers’ experiences

Jane Iles, Helen Pote

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To develop a grounded theory model of first-time mothers’ experiences of postnatal posttraumatic stress, with the aim of aiding understanding, formulation and treatment of new mothers. Background: Research into postnatal posttraumatic stress is growing, yet evidence-based treatment models have yet to be fully developed. It is unknown whether existing models of posttraumatic stress are directly applicable to postnatal posttraumatic stress, or whether other factors are particularly relevant for symptoms occurring in this context. Methods: A qualitative design explored first-time mothers’ experiences of pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum, following a subjectively identified traumatic labour and/ or childbirth. Eleven mothers were interviewed individually, either reporting full symptoms of posttraumatic stress (n = 6), or partial symptoms (n = 5). Grounded theory methodology was used to code the data and develop a theoretical model of maternal postnatal posttraumatic stress based on these accounts. Results: Factors emerged specific to postnatal experiences, including: antenatal expectations and anxieties, constructions of the experience, perceptions of other people’s views, social support (from specific sources) and adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies. Limitations: The study was based on a small sample of first-time mothers’ accounts, and therefore may not be applicable to mothers with previous children, or a wider maternal population. Conclusions: The new model highlights important areas for development in clinical practice at various stages of maternal healthcare provision: in the antenatal period, during labour and birth, and into the postpartum. The model can inform formulation and treatment of mothers experiencing postnatal trauma symptoms, providing specific areas of focus for intervention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-255
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date17 Apr 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Apr 2015

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