The pain of childbirth and PTSD as a possible after-birth

An interesting news feature dealing with the issue of post-natal post-traumatic stress disorder recently caught my attention.   

I am not at all surprised by its prevalence. 

It is important to understand that PTSD does not have to involve experiences of violence, war or car accidents.  It can occur following any event that a person is overwhelmed by and cannot properly emotionally and cognitively process.  

Of course, an event such as being shot at may give rise to a greater tendency to suffer from PTSD but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen as a result of, for example, a bereavement, a divorce or child birth.

Child birth is, according to a consultant orthopaedic physician I spoke to, “one of the most dangerous processes a woman can put her body through” which should get the attention of everyone involved of how a woman may potentially respond.  

Some 30,000 women are diagnosed with postnatal PTSD each year. Bear in mind these are the women who are diagnosed so this is not a trivial issue.  Psychiatrist Dr Rebecca Moore, a specialist in perinatal mental health, told the BBC in a recent interview that more needs to be done nationwide to improve perinatal care. 

It goes without saying that many women give birth and have no ill effects – some enjoy the experience – but so do some soldiers on tour.  

Those women who do not have positive experiences in childbirth and go on to show symptoms of PTSD need sympathy from loved ones and care and effective treatment from trained professionals to prevent the symptoms and implications going on for years.

As a trauma practitioner, I would place the women who have been unfortunate enough to suffer from PTSD in this way in the same category as those I have treated suffering from relationship break ups.

These clients do not automatically generate the same levels of sympathy from those around them and are more likely to hear friends and family saying: “Come on … what’s wrong with you?” Such a statement is not helpful and shows a lack of understanding of what trauma is.  

As I mentioned before, trauma happens when an individual is emotionally overwhelmed by an experience and then cannot make sense of or integrate the experience into the fabric of whom they are and what this experience has come to mean to them.  

Some symptoms may resemble post-natal depression such as withdrawal behaviours and mood swings but post-natal PTSD may include flashbacks, hyper- vigilance and extreme anxiety about their or their baby’s safety.  Prompt diagnosis is a key to helping these women, as well as seeing a trained trauma specialist subsequently.  

Midwives and obstetricians, who are present at a birth and ought to be more aware of the potential risks to the mother following a difficult birth, should play a key role in flagging potential for PTSD to GPs.

PTSD is one of the most debilitating of mental health conditions.  Post-natal PTSD is perhaps made even more devastating because it comes at a time in a family’s life when happiness should abound.


Written by Bert Stemarthe 


Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash