Posttraumatic stress, a trauma-induced condition that causes flashbacks, anxiety, and depression, is commonly associated with military, veterans, and crime victims.
But an increasing number of women are experiencing symptoms of PTSD as a result of childbirth experiences.
As many as one in three women may experience some trauma during or related to childbirth, and thousands develop birth-related PTSD each year.
New mothers experiencing PTSD may have more difficulty caring for their children and may be more hesitant to seek help out of fear of being labeled bad mothers.
Childbirth can be a frightening and painful experience even in the best of circumstances, but some factors increase the likelihood that a woman will develop PTSD. Common risk factors include:
• An excessively difficult birth
• A stillborn or unhealthy baby
• Feeling out of control during the birth process
• Excessive obstetrical interventions
• Physical problems, particularly bowel and bladder problems, resulting from birth
• A history of anxiety or depression
• Feeling unprepared for childbirth or parenthood
• An uncomfortable or frightening birth location
PTSD caused by childbirth manifests similarly to PTSD caused by other trauma, and may result in flashbacks, anxiety attacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and a strong startle reflex.
People with PTSD may find that certain situations, smells, or sights retrigger their traumatic memories.
Additionally, mothers who experienced trauma during childbirth are at increased risk of postpartum depression and may feel guilt about their parenting skills.
While some birth-related traumas — such as stillbirth and some medical complications — cannot always be anticipated or prevented, most trauma is preventable.
A 2004 study published in Nursing Research found four factors that greatly increased a woman’s risk of birth-related trauma regardless of other risk factors.
By working to minimize these factors, doctors, nurses, and caregivers can greatly reduce the incidence of birth trauma:
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