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Pregnancy loss leads to post-traumatic stress in one in three women.

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

Almost one in three women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after early pregnancy loss, a new study shows. For some, signs of PTSD, anxiety and depression are still evident nine months later.

Source: National Institute for Health Research

A recent study by Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium, has revealed the extent of women affected by PTSD after experiencing an early miscarriage (before 12 weeks) or an ectopic pregnancy. In a study of 650 women, 29% showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress 1 month after losing a baby. This declined to 18% after 9 months.

The study also found that 1 month after losing a baby, 24% of women had symptoms of anxiety and 11% had symptoms of depression. After a period of recovery (9 months) these percentages decreased, reducing to 17% and 6% after 9 months.

What can cause PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to cause fear, helplessness, or horror as a response to the threat of injury or death, and therefore can affect anyone.

PTSD is essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event. When you experience something really traumatic your body suspends ‘normal operations’ and so temporarily shuts down some bodily functions such as digestion, skin repair and crucially, memory processing.

During trauma, your brain thinks ‘processing and understanding what is going on right now is not important! Getting your legs ready to run, your heart rate up, and your arms ready to fight this danger is what’s important right now, I’ll get back to the processing later.’

As such, until the danger passes, the mind does not produce a memory for this traumatic event in the normal way. So, when your brain eventually does go back to try to process the trauma, and the mind presents the situation as a memory for filing, if finds it ‘does not exist’ in your memory yet, so it sees it as a situation in the current timeline, and so it can be very distressing.

The distress comes from the fact that the brain is unable to recognise this as a ‘memory’, because it hasn’t been processed as one. As such, the facts of what happened, the emotions associated with the trauma and the sensations touch, taste, sound, vision, movement, and smell can be presented by the mind in the form of flashbacks – as if they are happening right now.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person, but they may include:

  • flashbacks to the experience

  • nightmares about the experience

  • repetitive and distressing images or sensations

  • physical sensations such as pain, sweating, feeling sick (nausea) or trembling

  • anxiety and depression

You can get Help

Speak to your GP or Health Practitioner. There are also organisations and charities that can also support you. We have listed a few below:

SANEline: SANEline is a national out-of-hours mental health helpline offering specialist emotional support, guidance and information to anyone affected by mental illness, including family, friends and carers.

You can call 07984 967 708 giving your first name and a contact number, and one of their professionals or senior volunteers will call you back as soon as practicable.

SANDS: Stillbirth and Neonatal death Charity - Helpline: Freephone 0800 164 3332

Home - Birth Trauma Association - Click on the tap - Parents - then Seeking Psychological Help

PANDAS - FREE helpline number 0808 1961 776

The Compassionate Friends - 0345 123 2304 helpline email:



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