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Postpartum PTSD: What Is It and How To Recover

If you’re a new mom, you’ve probably heard of – or even experienced – postpartum depression. That’s when you think you should be happy, but you feel anxious, irritable and sad.

What’s lesser known is postpartum PTSD, which can happen when a mother has experienced a frightening or traumatizing event before, during or after childbirth.

Causes of Postpartum PTSD

Postpartum PTSD can last for months, affecting you, your child and your partner. Many circumstances can cause a mom to suffer from this disorder, including:

  • A high-risk pregnancy
  • Life-threatening condition or mother or baby
  • Emergency C-section
  • Your baby in the NICU
  • A previous birth trauma affecting current pregnancy
  • Abuse from childhood

When a traumatic event, such as a preterm delivery or emergency C-section, happens, it’s common to feel scared and anxious. So much of what can happen during an emergency is unexpected.  

Sometimes when traumatic events unfold, you may not even realize until afterward. During an emergency with your pregnancy, a doctor might have to make a decision for you that you would not have made for yourself. This is known as losing bodily autonomy, and afterward, can lead to anger and confusion.

If the situation becomes an emergency, your doctors and nurses may only have time to partially explain to you in the moment what is happening. Not knowing fully what is happening and not being able to process quickly causes stress during the delivery experience, as well as postpartum fear and anxiety.

Consider too that what happens afterward can be frightening, such as if your baby is hooked up to cords and monitors.

Signs of Postpartum PTSD

Postpartum PTSD may affect nearly 10 percent of women who have given birth. Like any form of trauma response, it can show up in myriad ways:

  • Insomnia
  • Hypervigilance regarding your baby
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to recall the childbirth
  • Flashbacks to the birth-related trauma
  • Nightmares of the birth process

Do Not Blame Yourself

Regardless of what happened, it’s important not to blame yourself. Do not tell yourself that you didn’t do enough — that you didn’t eat right or take enough precautions. This won’t help you move on, but it will make you feel stuck in worry.

Get as Much Info as Possible

After something traumatic has happened during the birth, find out as much as possible from the hospital. You need closure. By learning the details of what happened, you can see that what occurred was not your fault.

If the pregnancy became an emergency at the hospital, it will help to have your doctor explain what happened and answer any questions you may have. Although they likely explained what happened after the baby was born, you may find that in the days and weeks afterward that you have more questions.

After a traumatic birth, your healthcare provider may suggest that you be screened to determine if genetics played a role in the event, such as a preterm birth emergency. This information could help if you plan to have another child.

In the devastating event of your baby’s death, request an autopsy. You may find out, for example, that the baby had an issue that could not have been helped.

Schedule a Postpartum Appointment

Book an appointment with your OB-GYN after your baby is born — regardless of whatever happened during birth. In fact, it’s recommended, even if yours was not a high-risk pregnancy and no emergencies occured. Schedule the consult one to two weeks after birth to check if anything like preeclampsia has set in. This is a general wellness appointment to make sure you are OK mentally and physically.

Ask for Support

If you are finding that you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum PTSD, seek out a mental health counselor or support groups that meet in person or online.

Keep in mind that your partner and your family are suffering as well and might also need to talk  to a mental health counselor.

No matter what, know that you are not alone in this process. Sadly, many women have experienced this kind of trauma and can not only relate to what you are going through, but provide comfort and guidance as well.

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