Postpartum PTSD

Many clinicians and doctors may confuse the symptoms of Postpartum PTSD with Postpartum Depression. While there may be some overlap in symptoms such as having difficulty bonding with the baby, feeling sad or having a low mood, loosing interest in activities once enjoyed, difficulty sleeping, and withdrawing socially, the importance between these two disorders is significant. In addition, the course of treatment between Postpartum Depression versus Postpartum PTSD is different, and therefore obtaining a correct diagnosis is crucial. If you or your partner had a traumatic birth experience, review the following symptoms to determine if you or your partner may have Postpartum PTSD.

1. You or your partner experienced a traumatic birth in which you believed yourself, your partner or baby experienced actual or was at threat of serious injury or death.

  • The traumatic experience may have happened during the pregnancy, during the birth experience or shortly after the birth.
  • Events that could cause this include having to undergo an emergency C-section, having your baby be whisked away right after delivery due to medical complications, being coerced into unwanted medical interventions such as cutting of the perineum, experiencing a hemorrhage, developing an infection, etc.

2. You or your partner re-experiences the trauma.

  • This may look like a full-blown flashback, intrusive memories of the event, or having nightmares about the event.
  • People, places or things that remind you or your partner of the event may trigger some of these reactions (even the baby may cause you or your partner to feel triggered).
  • The triggers may cause emotional and/or physical reactions.

3. You or your partner avoid people, places or things that represent or remind you or your partner of the trauma.

  • Again, this could look like avoiding people, places or things…but could also be the avoidance of emotions associated with the trauma.
  • Because the avoidance of emotions may be apart of PTSD symptoms, you or your partner may vacillate between feeling flat or numb to feeling irritable or emotionally out of control.
  • Your baby may remind you of the trauma…many mothers experience difficulty bonding because of this and experience a lot of guilt over feeling this way—it is important to know that this is part of PTSD and not because you or your partner is a “bad mother.”

4. You or your partner are experiencing negative changes in your thoughts and mood.

  • This may include negative beliefs about oneself, others and the world.
  • You or your partner may also experience difficulties with your memory related to the trauma.
  • Blame of yourself and others in regards to their role in the trauma may be exaggerated.
  • You or your partner may seem stuck in emotions related to the trauma (fear, horror, anxiety, shame, sadness).
  • You or your partner may feel detached from others and may not want to spend time with others.
  • You or your partner may no longer be interested in activities you once enjoyed prior to the trauma.

5. You or your partner are experiencing an increase in “arousal” symptoms.

  • Arousal in this context means feeling on edge or hypervigilant.
  • It can also include having difficulty falling asleep, having difficulty concentrating and experiencing an exaggerated startle response.
  • Irritability can also be included in this group of symptoms.

If you or your partner are experiencing these symptoms as a result of a traumatic childbirth experience it is important to get appropriate and effective treatment.