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Elucidating posttraumatic stress symptom dimensions and health correlates among postpartum women.



Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with interpersonal dysfunction and adverse maternal health during the perinatal period (extending from conception through one year postpartum). However, PTSD is a heterogeneous disorder, and little is known about which aspects of this disorder may be particularly deleterious to the health of new mothers. Such data may inform more personalized approaches to PTSD prevention and treatment among postpartum women.


Using confirmatory factor analysis, we compared three models of PTSD symptom structure-the four-factor dysphoria model, four-factor emotional numbing model, and five-factor dysphoric arousal model-in 1,663 postpartum women from the Community and Child Health Network (CCHN). We examined associations between PTSD symptom dimensions of the best-fitting model with four correlates relevant to maternal health and functioning-parenting stress, partner relationship stress, relationship satisfaction, and contraceptive use.


Though all models fit well, the five-factor dysphoric arousal model provided optimal fit. Symptom dimensions from this model-re-experiencing, avoidance, numbing, dysphoric arousal, and anxious arousal-evidenced differential associations with the maternal health indicators. Numbing symptoms were most strongly associated with indicators of poor interpersonal functioning, whereas dysphoric arousal symptoms were most strongly related to low-efficacy contraceptive use.


Our cross-sectional study assessed DSM-IV PTSD symptoms.


PTSD symptoms among postpartum women are best-represented by five factors. Numbing symptoms (e.g., restricted affect, detachment) are most strongly associated with interpersonal difficulties, whereas dysphoric arousal symptoms (e.g., agitation, irritability) are linked with low-efficacy contraceptive use. Screening for these symptoms may help promote the health of new mothers.

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