National PTSD Awareness Month: PTSD following traumatic childbirth can lead to long-lasting repercussions

Many people consider post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental health condition which affects people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a terrorist attack, war, natural calamity, sexual assault, accident or other mishaps. A large majority of people, including doctors, may not be familiar with a less common, but equally debilitating occurrence of PTSD due to traumatic childbirth.

Traumatic birth events experienced by women can occur before or during pregnancy (extreme morning sickness, placenta abruption, adverse reaction to fertility treatment), or they can occur during labor and childbirth (forced invasive procedures during delivery, medical complications with the newborn child). In some cases, even a seemingly “normal” delivery to an outsider may be traumatic for the woman giving birth, which may cause PTSD symptoms.

A new study published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth in January 2017 has found that traumatic childbirth experiences can cause postpartum mental health problems including depression and PTSD. Poor postpartum mental health issues can cause extreme stress to develop in relationships and can negatively impact a child’s developmental process. Traumatic birth experiences may also influence a woman’s future decisions regarding childbirth such as giving birth at home instead of a hospital or opting for unassisted childbirth.

Although there is a sufficient level of awareness regarding postpartum depression, the same is not true of postpartum PTSD, even within the medical fraternity. This leads to the condition being under-diagnosed, and even when it is diagnosed correctly, the waiting period for counseling with a therapist sometimes runs into several months.

The U.S. National Center for PTSD marks the month of June as the National PTSD Awareness Month in order to help those affected with PTSD and encourage the general public to raise awareness about the debilitating condition. Greater the understanding about the mental disorder, better the outcome will be in providing effective treatments to the afflicted ones.

Majority women consider actions of care providers traumatic

It is usual for many people, including healthcare providers, to confuse postpartum PTSD with postpartum depression. Women with postpartum PTSD are known to experience symptoms such as flashbacks and intrusive memories, disturbed sleep, nightmares and acute emotional distress, all of which are comparable to general PTSD symptoms. Women with postpartum depression experience symptoms such as sadness, loss of interest in activities, insomnia, lower concentration levels and difficulty in forming a bond with their newborns. Postpartum PTSD is not restricted to women; men can also find childbirth-related events to be traumatic.

Study participants, comprising 943 adult women recruited via social media globally, were asked to complete an online questionnaire. The criteria were that all women should have experienced traumatic childbirth. One of the questions required them to describe their childbirth experience and what contributed to the trauma. Of the 748 women who responded, the majority (nearly 67 percent) identified the actions of care providers and communication with them as traumatic. Care providers refer to professionals who were entrusted with looking after the women during pregnancy or at the time of childbirth.

From the women’s responses on interpersonal factors affecting childbirth, the study identified four broad themes:

  • Care providers prioritized their personal agendas (or personal activities) instead of attending to the requirements of women.
  • Care providers disregarded women’s innate biological understanding and superseded it with their own interpretation of the situation (say, being in labor).
  • Threats, lies and emotional intimidation were used by care providers to coerce women to undergo invasive procedures or surgical interventions.
  • Women felt “violated” due to instances such as obstetric violence — forcible physical examination and assault by care providers — which were similar to being sexually abused or raped.

Humanistic and holistic approach needed to make childbirth less traumatic

Current medical practices related to childbirth treat women as passive participants, while authority and responsibility vests in care providers. So long as a technocratic approach is followed, maternity care providers will continue mistreating women. Research suggests that the efficacy of women-centered care can be enhanced by combining the paradigms of humanism and holism with the currently followed technocratic approach. Care providers should also undergo appropriate training which can facilitate better mental health outcomes among women.

If you are suffering from PTSD or other anxiety disorders, contact the Anxiety Treatment Centers of California to get information on the best anxiety disorders treatment in California that offer personalized care therapies to help a person recover and regain control of his or her life. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-972-9459 or chat online to know more about PTSD treatment centers in California.

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