Childbirth is a very hard thing to do, and sometimes, unlucky mothers who’ve suffered a traumatic experience can suffer from PTSD after birth.
PTSD after birth, or post traumatic stress disorder after childbirth, can affect a new mummy however excited or happy she was to receive her baby – it is true that it can be linked to suffering from depression in pregnancy, but sometimes, traumatic events can’t be anticipated. Don’t miss the following lines to learn about PTSD after childbirth, a problem that doesn’t get all the attention that it deserves.
What is PTSD after birth?
It doesn’t just happen to soldiers. Post traumatic stress disorder means that a person, after suffering a traumatic event, has trouble dealing with it and moving on. The trauma will stay present in their minds in different ways: stress, anxiety, flashes remembering, fear, being constantly aware for possible dangers… Every case is different.
Giving birth can be one of those traumas. But whereas the PTSD soldiers suffer is widely discussed and recognised in society, PTSD after birth is part of all those psychological conditions women feel they have to hide. Social pressure has a big part on it: a new mother needs to be happy and caring, as she has just seen her purpose in life fulfilled. But that’s not really true.
If you say that you are traumatised after suffering an accident, or after your experience in war, everybody will understand. But people and society offer way less support when that trauma is caused by childbirth. It is yet another invisible problem, and the first step for women not to feel ashamed of asking for help is making it visible. Their pain should be acknowledged, respected and understood.
PTSD after birth: Why does it happen?
There are several reasons why this traumatic experience stays in the mind of the mother who is suffering from postpartum post traumatic stress disorder. Postpartum PTSD can happen because the new mother had a very painful experience, like an extremely long labour. Another reason is related to the experience not being what she was expecting: suffering unexpected complications like an emergency C-section can also cause PTSD after birth. Last but not least, it can happen because the baby has suffered and has been in danger, which puts a huge dose of extra anxiety and fear on the mother who is giving birth.
But can a woman who’s had a seemingly normal experience suffer from PTSD after birth? The answer is yes. It is a matter of perception: if she was very scared, didn’t feel in control or was fearing for the baby’s wellbeing, the memory she will have from the birth could very well be a traumatic one.
The issue of PTSD after birth hasn’t been considered until recently. There are still no reliable statistics on what causes it or how frequent it is – something that will hopefully change in the near future. However, experts in the matter have determined a few factors that are linked to suffering from it, such as:
- Having an assisted delivery, with forceps or ventouses
- Having an emergency C-section
- Lack of information about childbirth
- Feeling of lack of control, sometimes related to that lack of information or to the medical personal not informing the mother about what is happening
- A history of depression, anxiety or PTSD in the mother
- Lack of social and emotional support
Symptoms and treatment of PTSD after birth
In order to treat PTSD correctly, it is necessary to diagnose it. It is not the same as baby blues or postnatal depression, even if they are related. Both postpartum depression and postpartum PTSD are monsters we need to beat, but they are different monsters. So what are the differences between them?
Women who suffer from PTSD after birth will feel threatened and paranoid, as if they were in constant danger – a symptom that needs to be carefully considered, since it’s a sign of postpartum psychosis as well. They can feel terribly scared and helpless and have anxiety crisis because of it. Insomnia and irritability are also symptoms, as well as having nightmares about the birth of the baby. In postnatal depression, moodiness, apathy, fatigue and a deep sadness are the top symptoms.
But there are some things that PTSD after birth and postnatal depression have in common. Even if those who suffer the first tend to have insomnia while those who suffer the second usually have to deal with fatigue and sleepiness, depressed new mothers can have episodes of insomnia as well.
Besides, in both cases, the woman could have mixed feelings towards her baby: With postnatal depression, it is common that the new mummy rejects her baby due to the overwhelming feeling of not being able to handle motherhood, or the feeling that she doesn’t love the baby – something caused by the state of depression itself. But there are cases of women with postpartum PTSD in which the new mummy also avoids the baby, but for a different reason: the little one reminds her of the traumatic birth she experienced.
If you’re suffering from PTSD after birth, you will surely need professional help. It is difficult that you recover on your own, and it would surely be a much longer and painful process. There are doctors, therapists and support groups that will be able to diagnose what is happening to you and help you.
PTSD after birth: Getting pregnant again
An untreated PTSD after birth can lead to another taboo condition that affects women: tokophobia, that is, fear of birth. Both conditions are closely related, since many times postpartum PTSD will cause tokophobia. This disorder can make women extremely anxious and agitated as their due date approaches, but it could also prevent them from getting pregnant again. It’s OK to want to have just one child, but what happens to those who suffer from this and wanted to have a larger family?
The answer is treating PTSD after birth. And to do so, the first step is being able to talk about the problem. If the birth of your baby was a traumatic experience for you, explain it to your partner, to your family or to your friends, and get help. There are excellent therapists that could treat you.
Keep in mind that, even if you got treatment and got over PTSD after birth, the symptoms can come back if you get pregnant again. That is not uncommon: The memories of your previous pregnancy will come back, and those were somewhat tainted by the bad experience you had at the end. If it’s necessary, resume therapy so you can have a good experience this time.
PTSD after birth is not a trivial thing, and it needs to be dealt with. Don’t be afraid of speaking up: Like with postpartum depression, it has nothing to do with how good a mother you are and, remember, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.