Alisha (name changed) got anxious after she gave birth to a baby boy. For months, she suffered unexplained anxiety and was plagued by the fear that something would harm her child. Following the birth of her son, Alisha would often panic for no reason and obsessively watch her son to ensure his safety. The 30-year-old first-time mother was suffering from postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the Postpartum Support International (PSI), about nine percent of women suffer from postpartum PTSD and most often the illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during or after delivery. The symptoms of the disorder may include flashbacks or nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks, and fight-or-flight response to emotional triggers. In postpartum women, PTSD may be triggered by difficult labor, previous trauma and unsupportive birth environment, among others.
As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), diagnostically the same as PTSD, postpartum PTSD differed from other forms of PTSD in significant ways. For example, traumatic symptoms in new mothers can be worsened by hormonal shifts and physiological changes experienced through childbirth.
“Based on the evidence to date, between 3-6 percent of mothers will (experience) postpartum PTSD following a full-term pregnancy with healthy outcomes for baby. So, if we know that there are four million babies born in the U.S. annually, 6 percent would be roughly 240,000 births, which is a very alarming number,” says Dr. Sharon Dekel, PTSD researcher and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
While her research is still underway, Dekel’s findings suggest several factors that could lead to PTSD following a stress-free delivery. Supporting her findings are the newly released guidelines by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) instructing medical practitioners to limit unnecessary medical interventions for low-risk births.
Although postpartum PTSD is temporary and treatable with professional help, when left untreated, it can severely affect a mother’s health and her ability to bond with her child. According to experts, while the treatment for postpartum PTSD is available, misdiagnosis is a big concern. It becomes difficult to differentiate between postpartum PTSD and postpartum depression. “You would think that most practitioners would be able to distinguish between the two, but when they see a woman who has just had a child, they tend to slap that label of postpartum depression onto them,” said Dr. Daniel Bober, assistant clinical professor at New York University Medical School and Yale Medical School.
According to Bober, while there are medical exceptions that may arise during childbirth, physically and emotionally healthy women who are naturally able to progress through the process of delivery are at a decreased risk of postpartum trauma. According to him, there are several biological processes involved during childbirth and interrupting these processes can actually make things worse.
Given time and appropriate care, most women can process trauma and gain the required strength from their experience. A comprehensive treatment for postpartum PTSD may involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling and medications, among others.
A life-changing event, pregnancy brings with it a host of emotional and physical changes in a woman’s life. Sovereign Health understands the plight of a new mother who experiences PTSD during or after delivery. We specialize in trauma treatment for women at our Chandler, Arizona, facility.
In addition to providing evidence-based therapies, our women’s trauma recovery program offered at Sovereign Health of Arizona, the women-only rehab, provides all patients with coping skills and techniques to maintain an overall good health and prevent any relapse. For more information on various treatments offered at our facilities or to know about our treatment facilities near you, call at 24/7 helpline number and speak to our admission specialist.
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