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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-Following a Traumatic Birth Experience


When Laura brought home her newborn son Sean, she expected to feel a little nervous but happy because she had waited such a long time for his arrival. Undergoing several rounds of fertility treatment, she eventually got pregnant and her pregnancy had been pretty normal. However, she wasn’t progressing normally during labor and ended up needing an emergency caesarean. The doctor told her that he needed to get the baby out quickly and she was whisked away to the operating room without being able to ask what was happening. Following Sean’s delivery, he was taken from her to the NICU and she wasn’t able to see him for a few hours. Due to her long labor, she was exhausted and kept falling in and out of sleep, fearing that her baby was dead and that was why no one would give him to her. Sean was healthy, but when she came home with him, she began obsessing that he would become ill and die. She had constant thoughts regarding his safety and didn’t want to be left alone with him. Her mind kept having flashbacks to the labor, the doctor’s worried face, and the fears she had. She began to have dreams in which Sean died in many different ways and frequently called her pediatrician’s office with concerns about Sean’s health. Whenever she talked to other moms, they seemed to be managing fine. She soon stopped wanting to be around them, as she felt such a failure. When she went back to the obstetrician’s office for her 6-week check-up, she experienced a full panic attack.

Laura’s obstetrician told her she had postpartum depression and prescribed her anti-depressants, but the flashbacks and the panic attacks would not go away. What she was experiencing was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can occur after experiencing or witnessing an event that threatens one’s own life or the safety of another significant person. It has been recognized as occurring after military combat, natural disasters, violent assault and serious accidents. More recently, research looking at the psychological factors influencing women’s subjective experience of childbirth indicates that labor and events around it can meet the definition of a traumatic stressor when a woman believes that either she or her baby will be harmed. PTSD has begun to be recognized within the context of traumatic birth experiences. This is referred to in the literature as either “birth trauma” or “PTSD following childbirth”.

A recent study entitled “New Mothers Speak Out,” commissioned by not-for-profit maternity care group Childbirth Connection and published in the Wall Street Journal, suggests that nearly one in ten U.S. women who have given birth recently meet the formal criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from childbirth…

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-Following a Traumatic Birth Experience

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