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What is Postpartum PTSD?

Certainly, being a parent has its own challenges, but postpartum ups and downs can at times go way beyond what is expected or normal and cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Published on: 06 May 2021
  • 3 min read
What is Postpartum PTSD?

Becoming a new mom is often characterized by great joy and happiness. But even in the best of moments, it's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, new moms have these dark moments when they're stressed, uncontrollably sad, or anxious. Certainly, being a parent has its own challenges, but postpartum ups and downs can at times go way beyond what is expected or normal and cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Causes of Postpartum PTSD

postpartum support

Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that's also referred to as birth trauma. You're likely to develop postnatal PTSD if you experience horrifying events during pregnancy, labor, or childbirth. Examples of these traumatic events include:

  • Difficult, prolonged labor and extremely painful delivery
  • Prolapsed cord
  • Unplanned cesarean section
  • Baby going to NICU
  • Use of forceps or a vacuum extractor to deliver the baby
  • Feelings of hopelessness, poor communication, or lack of reassurance and support during this period

Risk Factors For Postpartum PTSD

Not all women who undergo difficult pregnancies or childbirth develop PTSD. Some risk factors that can put new mothers at a higher risk of postpartum PTSD. These factors include:

  • Women who have experienced a traumatic incident in the past, such as rape or other forms of sexual abuse
  • Women with a history of severe physical complication or sustained injury during childbirth or pregnancy, such as unexpected hysterectomy, severe postpartum hemorrhage, a severe case of preeclampsia/eclampsia, cardiac disease, or perineal trauma (3rd to 4th-degree tear)
  • Women who are exceedingly fearful about childbirth
  • Women who have undergone fertility treatment are also at higher risk of postpartum PTSD.

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum PTSD

postpartum depression

Many people often confuse maternal mental health with postpartum PTSD. That's because postpartum PTSD is not included in the typical screening for postpartum mood disorders. Also, many women with postpartum PTSD exhibit signs and symptoms of depression, thereby being misdiagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD).

Although these two conditions overlap and postpartum PTSD can exacerbate PPD (and vice versa), they're quite different. postpartum PTSD happens after experiencing a traumatic incident, while PPD results from hormonal imbalance after delivery.

It's essential that you and the medical professional you seek help from are able to tell the difference between the two, so you can get the right and most effective treatment. Typically, here are the most common signs and symptoms of postpartum PTSD

Re-living aspects of the trauma

That may include:

  • Vivid flashbacks (feeling like the traumatic incident is happening all over again-- you re-live these memories for a long time)
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of a past traumatic event
  • Nightmares, irritability, and restlessness that prevent you from having sound sleep
  • Intense distress that's triggered by any reminder of the trauma
  • Physical sensation such as sweating, pain, trembling, or nausea when you remember the incident

Anxiety and panic attacks

This may include:

  • Being irritable, easily upset, or angry
  • Self-destructive and reckless behavior
  • Panicking when something or someone reminds you of the trauma
  • Difficulty sleeping, even when you have the chance
  • Finding it hard to concentrate, even on simple, everyday tasks
  • Persistent increased arousal that's characterized by extreme alertness, also known as 'hypervigilance', irritability, and exaggerated startle response
  • Being jumpy and easily startled
  • And other symptoms of anxiety

Avoiding memories and triggers

This may include:

  • Avoiding stimuli associated with the trauma, including feelings, thoughts, people, places, or talking about the details of the event
  • Feeling like you want to keep busy all the time
  • Being unable to show affection
  • Being unable to remember the details of what transpired
  • Feeling physically numb and detached from your body
  • Turning to alcohol or other recreational drugs to avoid memories
  • Feeling emotionally numb and cut off from your feelings

Bottom Line

postpartum PTSD

If you regularly get disturbing flashbacks of the traumatic events surrounding your childbearing experience, don't like talking about the birth of your baby because it triggers painful memories, or have symptoms of anxiety, you might be experiencing postpartum PTSD. Typically, there are different treatments that you can be offered to help you deal with this condition.

You can also find a safe place to talk about your struggle with your friends, family, and a professional therapist. With the right support, postpartum PTSD is temporary and treatable.


Avery K.

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Avery K.

When she isn’t looking after the many needs of her 2 kids, Avery enjoys taking walks in the park, enjoying nature, and getting her daily fix of caffeine.

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