Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

ptsdPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after a mother experiences a traumatic pregnancy or childbirth.   Your life, or your baby’s life, may have been at risk. Events may have caused you and your partner to feel fearful or helpless, or even horrified by what happened.

PTSD is the term for a set of normal reactions to a traumatic, scary or bad experience. A traumatic experience can be anything involving the threat, death or serious injury to an individual so it is understandable that post-traumatic stress disorder can be a consequence of a traumatic birth. 7,000 mothers suffer from PTSD each year in Ireland.

Causes

  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries
  • Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour
  • Fear for the baby’s safety
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth of a baby with a disability resulting from a birth trauma
  • The baby’s stay in a neonatal intensive care unit or special care baby unit
  • Emergency medical or surgical treatment for mother or baby due to birth complications
  • High levels of medical intervention like c-sections, assisted deliveries, inductions, etc
  • Poor pain relief
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Impersonal treatment or problems with the hospital staff
  • Not being listened to
  • Lack of information or explanation
  • Lack of privacy and dignity
  • Poor postnatal care
  • Trauma with a previous birth or domestic violence

Symptoms

  • A response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to that experience
  • The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares.   The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when reminded of the event.  Some women will not be able to remember moments as they have blanked them from their minds.
  • Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma.   This can cause the mother to avoid postnatal checkups as they will want to avoid any questions that could make them remember the events.   Even visiting the hospital for checkups can cause high levels of anxiety.  This can also include avoiding talking about it although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience in an obsessive manner.
  • Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant
  • Sleep problems, angry mood swings, feelings of panic, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Fear of it happening again, with either similar or worse outcomes. You may even worry that you or your baby will die if you have another pregnancy.   This can cause women to shun any physical contact and cause relationship issues.
  • Many women feel inadequate and have a poor self image because of it.
  • Some women can have difficulty bonding with their baby and then in turn feel guilty.
  • Feeling lonely and isolated especially from other mothers who did not experience a traumatic birth
  • Some women also suffer from Postnatal Depression.

You are not alone and it really is okay to talk about it

PTSD is a normal response to a traumatic experience, it does not mean you are weak or have an ability to cope.  Many women who do not have PTSD suffer from some of the symptoms after undergoing difficult birth experiences and this can cause them genuine and long-lasting distress. These women are also in need of support. Your partner may also have been affected by what happened so talk to them about how they are feeling as they may need help too.  PTSD can overlap or be confused with Postnatal Depression as some of the symptoms are the same, but, the two illnesses are distinct and need to be treated individually.  Symptoms of PTSD may not start immediately and may only start when women start thinking about having another child, again this is perfectly normal for sufferers of PTSD.

It is important that you seek help if you suffer from any of those symptoms, you should never suffer in silence as help is available.

If you or your partner are experiencing any of these symptoms please click here to see how to contact us.