One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, most often before or around 12 weeks. Ectopic pregnancies always result in pregnancy loss, as an embryo grows in an area outside the uterus and is unable to develop. Around 250,000 miscarriages occur annually in the UK. Previous research has suggested that women can be left deeply traumatized after a pregnancy loss, and this new study suggests that partners also experience post-traumatic stress (PTS). Partners are often ignored when a woman experiences a pregnancy loss. A new study suggests that one in 12 partners experiences post-traumatic stress after a miscarriage. The research, conducted by Imperial College London, surveyed over 100 couples who had experienced early pregnancy loss (miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy before 12 weeks). The study, the first ever to investigate post-traumatic stress in partners following spontaneous abortion, follows previous research by the same team that found that about one in five women suffer from long-term PTS following an early discontinuation of pregnancy.
Current research found that one month after termination of pregnancy, one in 14 (7%) partners met the criteria for PTS, rising to one in 12 (8%) at three months, with one in 25 partners still suffering from PTS nine months after the pregnancy loss. The team behind the research, funded by Imperial Health Charity and Imperial National Institute of Health, is calling for better psychological support for a woman and her partner after pregnancy loss. All couples in the study were asked to complete validated questionnaires about their emotions and behavior one month after the pregnancy loss, then again three and nine months later. A total of 102 partners completed the survey one month after the pregnancy loss, dropping to 70 at nine months after the pregnancy loss. The women’s responses were similar to those reported in a previous study and revealed that one month after termination of pregnancy, one third of women (34%) suffered from post-traumatic stress while one in four (26%) suffered from PTS three months after pregnancy loss and one in five (21%) at nine months.
Women and partners in the study who met the criteria for post-traumatic stress regularly reported reliving feelings associated with pregnancy loss and suffering from intrusive or unwanted thoughts about pregnancy loss. Both women and partners also reported having nightmares or flashbacks, while others avoided anything that could remind them of their loss. The team adds that although fewer partners met the criteria for PTS than women, many of the partners experienced individual symptoms of PTS, even if they did not fully meet the criteria for the condition. For example, one month, three and nine months after the pregnancy loss, more than 80 percent of all partners reported feeling helpless and about one third of all partners reported feeling terrified. About 70 percent of all partners reported reliving the event, and one in five reported their symptoms had affected relationships. The message is clear: partners are vulnerable to the same psychological problems as mothers and specialist support must be made available to one or both bereaved parents.
Dr Jessica Farren, first author of the research, gynecologist and obstetrician, explained: “This study shows that there is a sizeable percentage of partners who experience severe psychological symptoms after a pregnancy loss. Also, those partners who do not have reaching the threshold for diagnosing post traumatic stress it is still very likely that they will experience symptoms that impact their well-being. Post-traumatic stress can have a toxic effect on all elements of a person’s life – affecting work, home and relationships Evidence suggests the risk of relationship breakdown increases after pregnancy loss, and our research shows that losing a pregnancy can have a significant and lasting psychological impact on both a woman and her partner. It is hoped that an awareness of the results of this study will help couples orient themselves in their different responses to these losses and show themselves to each other the understanding necessary to overcome a very difficult period in their relationship “.
Senior scientist professor Tom Bourne added: “We have made significant progress in recent years in breaking the silence around mental health issues in pregnancy and postnatally, but early pregnancy losses are still shrouded in secrecy, with very little acknowledgement of how distressing and profound an event they are. This research suggests psychological support should be offered to both the woman and her partner, with couples given the option of attending therapy together. It also shines a light on the serious psychological difficulties experienced by partners after a miscarriage and we look forward to seeing how this important research can be translated into better care for couples who face this unimaginable pain. Baby loss can have a deep and lasting impact on both parents, and this study gives a voice to many who have suffered in silence, highlighting the profound consequences that can have for their mental health and wellbeing”.
- Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.
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