Beyond Depression: Navigating Postpartum PTSD

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IN THIS ARTICLE

Pregnancy and childbirth are both trying times for mothers where they have to go through numerous pains and struggles physically and mentally. The common notion is that once the baby is born it’s all good from that point onwards. However, there’s more to post birth struggles for every mother. From nursing the baby to managing the household, juggling work and relationships, mothers have to do it all. And all this can prove to be overwhelming for most mothers that can affect their mental health.

The chances are that you have heard of postpartum depression, but how often have you come across the term postpartum PTSD ( Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) ? Although this disorder affects close to nine percent of new mothers, very few people are aware of this condition (1). Soon after pregnancy, you will experience a plethora of emotions, from joy and excitement to sadness and fear. All of these emotions are normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

However, if certain emotions such as fear and anxiety seem to be taking a toll on you, you may be suffering from what is known as postpartum PTSD (2). Let’s have a look at everything you need to know about postpartum PTSD:

1. What Is Postpartum PTSD?

What Is Postpartum PTSD?

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Before we get into postpartum PTSD, let’s understand what PTSD is in the first place. PTSD, short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a medical disorder where you experience anxiety, fear, and stress after a particularly terrifying event. For example, war veterans have PTSD even after years have passed after the war they fought. They experience flashbacks and nightmares, as they have not fully recovered from the trauma they experienced on the battlefield (3). Even when they know that they are past the horrific events and are at a safe position, their mind and body still takes time to get rid of the effects of the traumatic events. It is as if the body has a memory of its own and refuses to let go of the trauma easily.

A similar thing happens in the case of postpartum PTSD. Here, the mother sees her childbirth as a traumatizing event and suffers from the symptoms associated with postpartum PTSD.

2. What Causes Postpartum PTSD?

What Causes Postpartum PTSD?

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Pregnancy and childbirth put your body through a lot, and these changes can affect not just your physical health but your mental health as well. During your pregnancy, you may experience certain complications. Childbirth has its risks for any mother and unforeseen complications add to the woes. These complications might have a traumatizing impact on your mental health.

​​Similarly, you probably went through a painful delivery, prolonged labor, or you suffered from other complications such as a hemorrhage, a severe tear in your lady parts, or issues with the umbilical cord. Postpartum trauma can also be caused due to having a premature baby or watching your baby suffer from complications at birth, even though you were okay.

Your whole pregnancy, followed by the event of your childbirth, is not a walk in the park. It can be highly stressful, and sometimes, you may find it hard to recover from this stress. All of these situations can play a part in causing postpartum PTSD (4).

3. What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD?

What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD?

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You may experience only a few or all of the symptoms of PTSD. Here’s a list of the most commonly experienced PTSD symptoms:

1. Panic Attacks And Anxiety

Panic Attacks And Anxiety

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Women who have postpartum PTSD often experience panic attacks and suffer from anxiety. When you have a panic attack, you might experience a sudden rush of fear and anxiety, and sometimes it may even feel like you’re having a heart attack. PTSD causes you to have an exaggerated response to external stimuli. Therefore, you might have a panic attack during your daily activities, although there is no imminent danger.

2. A Sense Of Detachment

A Sense Of Detachment

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Another common symptom of postpartum PTSD is a sense of detachment from your newborn and family and friends. The detachment you experience can manifest itself in different ways. For example, you may find it difficult to express your emotions, or you may be unable to empathize with your close ones.

3. You Have Intrusive Thoughts

You Have Intrusive Thoughts

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Your mind keeps reeling if you have postpartum PTSD, and more often than not, these thoughts revolve around the event that has caused you trauma. For example, if you had a harrowing experience during delivery, you will find that the memory of that event keeps surfacing.

4. Avoidance

Avoidance

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Avoiding certain triggers is a normal response to trauma and is also a symptom. You may find yourself avoiding anything or anyone that possibly reminds you of the painful event that caused you trauma. Many women who have postpartum PTSD refrain from visiting the hospital they gave birth in. In worst-case scenarios, a mother may also avoid her child, as the baby can be a trigger and remind her of childbirth, which was traumatic for her.

4. Treatment For Postpartum PTSD

Treatment For Postpartum PTSD

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With the right support, you can treat postpartum PTSD, so don’t stop yourself from seeking medical intervention when it is available. Various therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and group therapy have proven to be effective. Anti-anxiety medications are available for those who experience severe anxiety and panic attacks. Researchers are exploring alternative medicine therapies such as acupuncture and hypnosis as well. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is another breakthrough that helps treat postpartum PTSD. The options are plenty, so all hope is not lost (5).

Navigating your way through postpartum PTSD can be difficult, but don’t hesitate to ask for help. Confide in your partner or friend about the challenges you are facing and discuss the best course of action with your healthcare provider. And always remember this — you brought a lovely baby into this world, and that is remarkable in itself. So, cut yourself some slack — you’ve got this! Have you had postpartum PTSD? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments below! It might help another mom just like you!

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/postpartum-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/
  2. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Post Partum
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4168363/
  3. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559129/
  4. Childbirth Induced Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Prevalence and Risk Factors
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5387093/
  5. Treating PTSD: A Review of Evidence-Based Psychotherapy Interventions
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6224348/
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