Birth trauma may increase risk of harmful drinking

Psychological birth trauma may increase the risk of harmful drinking in mothers as their children grow older, research has shown.

Around one in three women find some aspect of giving birth traumatic and research finds around 4-5% of women in the UK go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after birth.

A new paper by Dr Abi Rose, a Reader in the School of Psychology, is the first UK study to look at the impact of birth trauma on maternal alcohol consumption. Similar to some of her other research, the study highlights that using alcohol to cope is common in some mums, and that drinking to help manage stress and mental ill-health is associated with higher alcohol use.

Dr Rose explains that: “Psychological birth trauma may be uniquely associated with a delayed risk for drinking to forget – what we call ‘maladaptive alcohol use’. As children grow older, mothers who have experienced a traumatic birth and who drink to cope, may be more likely to develop hazardous or harmful drinking behaviours.”

The team, which included Dr Andrew Jones (LJMU) and Dr Sally Hunt, an Australian clinical psychologist and academic, conducted the online survey of over 500 mothers with and without experience of psychological birth trauma. Participants self-reported alcohol use and completed measures of alcohol harm, drinking motives, trauma, and mental health.

“We know that women’s alcohol use is increasing, so it’s important to identify issues that may increase risk of hazardous drinking and alcohol harm. Because the impact of birth trauma on drinking may be delayed, this might help to explain why this issue hasn’t been looked at before. But it’s also important to recognise that many women experience trauma and mental-ill health but they don’t always get the help they need.”

Earlier this month, a national inquiry into birth trauma was led by the Conservative MP Theo Clarke and Labour MP Rosie Duffield, calling for an overhaul of the UK’s maternity and postnatal care.

Rose said: “Looking at the associations between birth trauma and drinking is a new topic of study, and so we need more research to confirm our findings and fully explain them. But this type of evidence strengthens the argument that birth trauma can have a wide range of long-lasting effects on the mother, as well as the child and wider family. So it’s really important that the risk of trauma is minimised, and that there’s appropriate support in place which is easy for women to access.”

For information and support on birth trauma or alcohol, please see:


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