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Everyone knows childbirth is painful. But is it so bad that it could actually lead to post-traumatic stress disorder?

According to new research, the answer for some mothers is yes.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University interviewed a group of women who had recently given birth and discovered that almost 26 per cent had some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, while 3.4 per cent exhibited symptoms of full-blown cases of the disorder. Symptoms include flashbacks, avoidance of discussing the event, heart palpitations when the discussion comes up and reluctance to have another child.

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The biggest factor linked to PTSD symptoms? A woman's choice of pain control. The researchers found that of those women who experienced full or partial symptoms, 80 per cent had gone through a natural childbirth with no pain relief.

"The less pain relief there was, the higher the woman's chances of developing post-partum PTSD," said Rael Strous of Tel Aviv University's Sackler faculty of medicine in a news release.

Of course, it doesn't seem surprising that women who didn't have pain medication were more likely to have a negative or stressful reaction after the event. But does opting for a natural childbirth really make a woman more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD?

It's worth noting that having a midwife or doula present did not impact a woman's chances of developing harmful symptoms later, researchers found.

The study is small – only 89 women were included – but it raises interesting questions about the experience of childbirth.

More research should be done to help doctors understand when expecting mothers may be at risk for PTSD, Prof. Strous said.

What do you think: Do you believe natural childbirth is linked to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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