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Abstract

Postpartum psychological distress can adversely affect the early mother–infant relationship; however, this has not been investigated in relation to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. This article explores whether PTSD symptoms relating to labor and delivery are associated with mothers' early perceptions of their infant. Using labor and childbirth as the stressor criterion, 211 women were assessed at 6 weeks' postpartum for symptoms of intrusions, avoidance, and hyperarousal. Their perceptions of their infants, of mother-to-infant attachment, and infant behavioral characteristics also were evaluated. In sum, 3.8% of the women fulfilled full diagnostic criteria, and a further 21.3% reported clinically significant symptoms on at least one dimension of PTSD. Those meeting full or partial criteria perceived their attachment relationships to be significantly less optimal and reported more negative maternal representations in terms of their infants being less warm and more invasive. They also rated them as being temperamentally more difficult, prone to distress, and less easy to soothe. However, when the effects of depression were partialled, only the effect for perceived warmth remained. Posttraumatic stress symptoms relating to labor and delivery may adversely influence maternal perceptions of infants, with potentially adverse implications for the developing mother–infant relationship. The overlap with depressive symptoms requires further exploration.