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Childbirth and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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childbirth and living with posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD Comstock/Thinkstock

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:

GoodTherapy.org is a leading mental health directory that promotes healthy, empowering, non-pathological psychotherapy practices. Visit GoodTherapy.org to find a therapist that can help you with a variety of issues including women's issues, fertility issues, relationships & marriage, sexuality, eating issues, parenting and much more.

Add a Comment1 Comments


Very good write up and good to see this getting some press. There has been anecdotal evidence for years but good to see some real study going into this.

Marielaina Perrone DDS
Henderson Dental Implants

October 15, 2012 - 8:44am
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