How to Cope With PTSD After Birth Trauma
The birth of a child is supposed to be one of the most purely joyous occasions in a person’s life. But when a labor doesn’t go as smoothly as expected, the experience can have a profound impact on a new mother, leaving her feeling like anything but the glowing, happy, content person so many people expect a new mother to be. A prolonged, difficult labor can result in emergency medical procedures and leave lasting physical effects on the mother or cause long-term injuries for the baby.
Adjusting to life with a new baby can be overwhelming even under the most ideal circumstances. But following a traumatic birth experience, not only might a mother have lasting physical effects to deal with, she could also be experiencing a multitude of reactions that go beyond postpartum depression. A new mother might feel depressed and isolated, experiencing insomnia, having outbursts of anger, having a difficult time bonding with her child, or having flashbacks to her labor. They might also be afraid of having another child in the future because they don’t want to risk having that kind of experience all over again. If the traumatic birth also resulted in a long-term injury for her child, she might also be trying to figure out how she can best care for her child.
If the above description sounds like you or a loved one, you or she may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). About 33% of postpartum women experience some elements of PTSD, but 1-7% of postpartum women develop full PTSD. Left untreated, PTSD can put significant strain on marriages, cause a mother to avoid dealing with her child (or worse, think about harming her child), or avoid seeking future medical treatment because medical environments bring back memories of the traumatic birth.
If you believe you have PTSD following childbirth, it’s extremely important to seek help. A traumatic birth can leave many women feeling like they’re completely alone, but it’s important to realize that you aren’t alone. Support groups (either ones that meet locally or online) are extremely beneficial for many women who are either coping with PTSD following a traumatic birth or have a child who suffered a birth injury. As well-meaning and supportive as your family and friends may be, sometimes it just helps to speak to someone who has gone through the exact same experiences you have. If you need help finding a support group in your area, a hospital or doctor may be able to refer you to one. Seeing a therapist can also be very helpful in learning to cope with things such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, and flashbacks.
With treatment, many women who suffer PTSD after childbirth are able to come around to the idea of having another child and successfully do so without having repeat PTSD experiences. In many cases, childbirth related PTSD stems from a woman feeling like she had no support or felt powerless to control the birth experience. If you’re considering having another child, you might consider contacting a social worker or counselor at the hospital about finding ways to cope with the feelings of vulnerability that came with your previous labor.