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The role of adult attachment style, birth intervention and support in posttraumatic stress after childbirth: A prospective study

Ayers, S., Jessop, D., Pike, A. , Parfitt, Y. & Ford, E. (2014). The role of adult attachment style, birth intervention and support in posttraumatic stress after childbirth: A prospective study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 155(1), pp. 295-298. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.10.022


There is converging evidence that between 1% and 3% of women develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth. Various vulnerability and risk factors have been identified, including mode of birth and support during birth. However, little research has looked at the role of adult attachment style in how women respond to events during birth. This study prospectively examined the interaction between attachment style, mode of birth, and support in determining PTSD symptoms after birth.

A longitudinal study of women (n=57) from the last trimester of pregnancy to three months postpartum. Women completed questionnaire measures of attachment style in pregnancy and measures of PTSD, support during birth, and mode of birth at three months postpartum.

Avoidant attachment style, operative birth (assisted vaginal or caesarean section) and poor support during birth were all significantly correlated with postnatal PTSD symptoms. Regression analyses showed that avoidant attachment style moderated the relationship between operative birth and PTSD symptoms, where women with avoidant attachment style who had operative deliveries were most at risk of PTSD symptoms.

The study was limited to white European, cohabiting, primiparous women. Future research is needed to see if these findings are replicated in larger samples and different sociodemographic groups.

This study suggests avoidant attachment style may be a vulnerability factor for postpartum PTSD, particularly for women who have operative births. If replicated, clinical implications include the potential to screen for attachment style during pregnancy and tailor care during birth accordingly.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Posttraumatic stress, attachment, birth, labour, support, postpartum
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
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