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Health & Pregnancy

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The Lasting Trauma of Stillbirth


"PTSD is a distressing but treatable condition, and women and their doctors should be aware that previous stillbirth is a risk factor in the next pregnancy," Turton tells WebMD.

And the people closest to a mom may have a vital role to play in averting PTSD. "Our study found that perceived lack of support from partner or family at the time of the stillbirth was associated with PTSD in the next pregnancy," Turton tells WebMD.

Psychiatrist Mary Helen Davis, MD, says that friends, relatives and even doctors -- at a loss for how to respond following a stillbirth -- may tell mothers, "What's the problem? Just have another pregnancy."

"A lot of times the loss of a baby to stillbirth is an unrecognized loss," she says. "People may not be aware that a mom can be stuck in an unresolved grief."

Davis says such women are bound to experience fears and concerns about whether the subsequent pregnancy will be successful. And they may experience what she calls "anniversary reactions" -- if the mom lost her child at a particular point in the pregnancy, she is liable to become especially fretful at that point during the subsequent pregnancy.

So when does normal worrying turn into PTSD? Davis says the anxiety associated with normal stress usually resolves in a matter of weeks. If the anxiety is prolonged beyond that, and is accompanied by intrusive thoughts and memories about the trauma, that may be an indication of PTSD.

Davis says psychotherapy can help relieve symptoms of PTSD. And some medications, such as Zoloft, have been approved for both depression and PTSD, and are believed to be safe for use during pregnancy, she says.

Shari Green, who never suffered from PTSD, appears to have resolved her grief. She is active in support groups for other moms who have lost a child to stillbirth, and she urges others to seek out every avenue of help they can, including medical or mental health care.

And, like Davis, she cautions friends of moms who have lost a child from saying what might most easily come to mind: "Don't worry, you're young -- you can have another child."

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