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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post traumatic stress disorder following birth

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) refers to a range of symptoms or reactions that you can develop if you have personally experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. For some people, childbirth can also fit into this category.

The event is one in which you, or others around you, may have felt threatened or unsafe and leads you to feel intense fear, helplessness or horror. Both men and women can experience PTSD after experiencing or watching a birth.

I was not fully in touch with reality for the last 8 hours or so of labour. I don’t know how common this is, but I was terribly traumatised and had no opportunity to debrief or ask questions. I never saw the obstetrician who was there. My partner was also traumatised and his memory of events was poor. We found it hard to piece together what happened and timeframes. I obsessed about it for months afterwards.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

If you have PTSD following the birth, you may find yourself experiencing the following types of difficulties:

Re-living the birth/traumatic event

Through unwanted and recurring memories, including vivid images and/or nightmares. This may cause you to experience intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of or discussing the birth or events.

Being overly alert or wound up

Being overly alert or would up can lead you to experience sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.

Avoiding reminders of the event

Some parent find themselves wanting to deliberately avoid activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the birth or aftercare event because it brings back painful memories.

Feeling emotionally numb

You may find yourself losing interest in day-to-day activities, feeling cut off and detached from friends and family, or feeling emotionally flat and numb.

Who is at risk?

Post traumatic stress disorder following birth can happen to anyone, particularly those who have experienced:

  • A previous traumatic or difficult birth
  • Rape or sexual assault in the past – as birth can remind them of their previous experiences where they felt sexually violated, assaulted or invaded
  • Intimate partner violence and other traumas

For these reasons it is important to discuss this with your obstetrician, midwife or birthing professional prior to the birth, or those involved in your delivery at the time of birth – so they can be extra sensitive to your experience and supportive.

If you can identify with these symptoms, there are effective treatments available to help you recover from PTSD and allow you to move forward from the traumatic experience.