According to the National Center for PTSD, (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. When most people think of trauma, they think about large-scale and uncontrollable events like war, natural disasters, rape, car or plane crashes, etc. Yet, unfortunately, due to the narrow scope with how we generally tend to conceptualize trauma, it’s easy for a person to overlook their own experience as traumatic. This often means suffering in silence without seeking the necessary help to heal.
Many new moms experience PTSD which may be triggered by a previous history of trauma, any of the events leading up to childbirth, a difficult labor, medical interventions, a stressful childbirth environment, and time spent in the NICU. Even moms with a perfectly typical, happy and healthy labor and delivery may still experience PTSD.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (https://adaa.org), PTSD is typically diagnosed about a month following a traumatic event. However, in some cases the symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later.
After experiencing a traumatic childbirth, new moms may experience symptoms of a post-trauma response. These can include:
- Intrusive ( unwanted and repeated) memories or dreams/nightmares of the bothersome/stressful events, and attempts to distract yourself or avoid thinking about it.
- Avoiding people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations that remind one of the events — this could include driving by the hospital where you gave birth, looking at photos from the hospital, etc.
- Physiological response when reminded of the events (heart racing, sweating, difficulty breathing).
- Difficulty remembering parts of the experience.
- Overly negative beliefs about yourself, others, and the world.
- Blaming yourself or someone else for what happened.
- Feeling hypervigilant (constantly alert and jumpy). You may worry that something terrible could happen to your baby.
New moms tend to neglect their emotional experiences. Avoidance of traumatic experiences only intensifies one’s trauma, or PTSD, symptoms and is likely to lead to longer-term psychological difficulties. There is much healing to be done after a traumatic childbirth occurs; simply brushing the situation and related thoughts and emotions under the rug does not rid oneself of what has happened. Trauma specialists say that avoidance is the number one factor in the development and maintenance of PTSD.
The psychology behind developing PTSD is complicated, but it frequently has a lot to do with expectations. Mothers often don’t anticipate having a problematic birth, so when it happens, it can leave lasting psychological scars. Denying that your childbirth experience was traumatic will not erase the cognitive or body memory. In fact, it is likely the opposite will occur and down the road, the woman who has experienced birth trauma but does not acknowledge the experience is more likely to have an exacerbation of symptoms.
Another factor unique to this type of trauma is the need to refocus one’s attention away from the childbirth experience and on to caring for their new child. New moms become preoccupied with caring for their babies.
Unfortunately, mothers have kept their symptoms to themselves, and so the condition has remained largely invisible. It’s important to remember that you are not alone. PTSD is generally treated with therapy, peer support groups, medication and there are many available resources. Here are some resources to help you:
Connect ANYTIME with a counselor for confidential conversations — no diagnosis needed: Call or text 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (1-833-943-5746) in English and Spanish.