We normally associate post-traumatic stress disorder with victims of horrific crimes and returning soldiers. However, a new body of medical evidence indicates that some mothers can be afflicted with this condition, particularly (but not always) after a difficult delivery which caused the baby injury. Studies suggest that this may occur in 1% to 7% of delivering women (approximately 40,000 to 280,000 in the United States) every year.
Risk Factors for PTSD
The degree of mental well-being is the most obvious indicator of whether PTSD could result from a traumatic delivery. Mothers with a previous history of depression, mental illness, extreme anxiety, and trauma are more likely to develop PTSD after labor and delivery.
The manner of injury to the child is also significant—a feeling of helplessness is not uncommon when we rely on professional doctors and nurses to protect our children. However, many mothers blame themselves for a child’s injury, believing that they could have known whether to request or turn down a cesarean section; whether they could have gotten to the hospital sooner; or whether they could have done anything else differently which might have altered the outcome. The more demanding the delivery, for example, where forceps or vacuum extractors are used, the more likely that the mother will develop PTSD. Anything that does not meet the mother’s expectations, causing her to fear for her safety or her baby’s safety, can trigger this condition.
One study suggests that PTSD is more common in African-American women, women without private health insurance, and women with unplanned pregnancies.
PTSD symptoms may include:
- Frequently relieving the traumatic event
- Nightmares, moodiness and psychological distress
- Avoidance of things which serve as a reminder of the event
- Anger, insomnia, and irritability
Mothers Overcoming PTSD
It goes without saying that a strong support system can go a long way. Family, friends, and associations (religious, charitable, etc…) can help make the difference between debilitating PTSD and overcoming PTSD. Professional help can play a vital role in recovery—this may take the form of counseling, group meetings, or individual time with a religious figure. Medication may be of use, as can relaxation techniques.
PTSD can affect a mother’s health, relationship with her family, and ability to bond with her new baby. It is critical that new mothers who might have any mental difficulties after giving birth get treatment as soon as possible. For more information on PTSD after labor and delivery, contact our medical malpractice attorneys at (855) 712-7818 or online for a free consultation.
For More Information
- Postpartum Depression & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC
- The Wall Street Journal, Birth Trauma: Stress Disorder Afflicts Moms (August, 2008)
- Self-Help and Coping: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs