Bringing a child into the world is usually a joyful experience. However, for some women, the experience of giving birth is not positive, which can lead to postpartum PTSD. Between 1 percent and 6 percent of women develop PTSD after giving birth, according to Postpartum Support International (2010). Fortunately, understanding how the trauma of birth can lead to PTSD, and the difference between postpartum PTSD and postpartum depression, can help you learn to cope with this condition in yourself or a loved one.
What Causes Postpartum PTSD
All PTSD is caused by trauma. For some women, giving birth may be traumatic, particularly if it is a difficult delivery or if concerns arise about the health of the baby. Additionally, women who have experienced previous trauma, such as abuse or violence, are at higher risk for postpartum PTSD.
Types of birth trauma that can lead to PTSD in women include:
- Baby being taken to NICU
- Feeling powerless during delivery
- Poor communication and lack of support during delivery
- Prolapsed cord
- Unplanned C-section
- Use of forceps or vacuum extractor for delivery.
Postpartum PTSD Symptoms
Symptoms of postpartum PTSD are the same as those of PTSD from other types of trauma and may include:
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Avoidance of feelings, memories, people, things and thoughts related to the trauma
- Hyper-arousal, leading to irritability, feeling on guard, trouble sleeping and startling easily
- Re-experiencing the event
- Sense of detachment.
Postpartum Blues, Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Psychosis
PTSD is not the only cause of severe emotional distress after childbirth. Other postpartum conditions include:
- Postpartum blues: Also known as “baby blues,” this condition affects up to 80 percent of new mothers, according to Mental Health America (2010). Women with postpartum blues experience mood swings that decrease as hormones stabilize. Symptoms of postpartum blues usually don’t last longer than a few weeks.
- Postpartum depression (PPD): PPD is considered a form of major depression and is believed to occur in about 10 to 20 percent of new moms, according to Mental Health America (2010). The symptoms of PPD are the same as those for clinical depression and may include thoughts of harming the baby or obsessive fears about the baby’s health.
- Postpartum psychosis: Postpartum psychosis is a serious but rare condition that can involve delusions, hallucinations and paranoia. Less than 1 percent of women suffer from this condition, according to Mental Health America. However, it is a serious disorder that requires immediate treatment in order to ensure the health and safety of both the mother and her child.
The symptoms of PTSD, postpartum blues and PPD have some overlap and are sometimes difficult to tell apart. If you have recently given birth and believe you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or PTSD, your doctor can give you a clear diagnosis and help you to start enjoying motherhood. If you have postpartum PTSD, your treatment may include therapy or prescription medications.
Mental Health America. (2010). Factsheet: Postpartum disorders. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from: http://www.nmha.org/go/postpartum.
Nauert, R., PhD. (2010). PTSD after childbirth. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from: http://psychcentral.com/news/2008/08/08/ptsd-after-childbirth/2716.html.
Postpartum Support International. (2010). Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from: http://www.postpartum.net/Get-the-Facts/Postpartum-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.aspx.