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Perinatal Matters

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Following a traumatic event, it is normal to experience anxiety responses. In most people these resolve with time. However if anxiety symptoms continue and have not resolved within a month or so, then a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may well be appropriate.

We usually recognise these as things like, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, military combat, or violent personal assaults like rape.

A traumatic experience can be any experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby) so it is now understood that PTSD can be a consequence of a traumatic birth. This may be the result of an emergency caesarean section or a baby being rushed away for resuscitation.


PTSD After Childbirth Resource – Click Here

PTSD can occur with childbirth

Some women and people may experience events during childbirth (as well as in pregnancy or immediately after birth) that would traumatise any normal person.

For some people, it is not always obvious dramatic events that trigger childbirth trauma. Other factors such as loss of control, may be highly traumatic for them, (particularly if they have had certain negative experiences in the the past).

It is normal for people to experience some or all of the symptoms described below following a traumatic event.

These symptoms often resolve themselves after a month or so. However, if people continue to experience these symptoms then psychiatrists call this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and they may need some help to relieve the symptoms.

PTSD effects with pregnancy, childbirth, parenting

Women and people who have complex PTSD may find that pregnancy and the postnatal period is a particularly difficult time for them as it can reawaken memories; of previous trauma, the way they were parented, or previous losses (e.g. miscarriage).

Issues which may arise include: feeling overly protective of their baby, difficulty bonding with their baby or feeling afraid of their baby.

“I get afraid of someone abusing her… I’m so sure it will happen; I think it’s just a matter of time. I even worry when my husband is changing her nappy and wonder if he is having thoughts which is completely ridiculous because he never would but I can’t help it” – Tina

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD (sometimes called “Disorder of Extreme Stress”) is found among people who have been exposed to prolonged traumatic circumstances or several traumatic events occurring at different times, especially during childhood, such as childhood sexual abuse.

Developmental research is revealing that many brain and hormonal changes may occur as a result of early, prolonged trauma, and can contribute to many long term behavioural and emotional difficulties including; impulsivity, aggression, sexual acting out, eating disorders, alcohol/drug abuse, self destructive actions, intense rage, depression, panic, dissociation (blanking out), and amnesia.

Some people may experience only mild difficulties, while other people may have severe difficulties involving many of the above issues.

The extent of someone’s difficulties will depend on many factors such as the nature and duration of the trauma as well as the person’s other life experiences.

PTSD Symptoms

The things people with PTSD may experience include:

  • Intense fear, helplessness or horror about their experience.

  • Re-experiencing of the event with intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares.

  • Feeling distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.

  • Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma.

  • Bad memories and tension will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating.

  • Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hypervigilant (feel jumpy or on their guard all the time). 

It is important to remember that the above symptoms are a normal response to a traumatic experience.

The re-experiencing of the event with flashbacks accompanied by genuine anxiety and fear are the mind’s way of trying to make sense of an extremely scary experience. They are not a sign individual ‘weakness’ or inability to cope. Over time these feelings will usually settle but if not then can result in problems.

“The memory of that time wouldn’t go away, it was so bad and I was in so much pain, I felt completely out of control and thought something was seriously wrong, that I was going die. I couldn’t stop crying every time I thought about it”. – Rebecca

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