Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Postpartum PTSD?

Postpartum PTSD is a moderately common (9% of postpartum women) perinatal mood & anxiety disorder (PMAD). It is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum.

These traumas can include:

  • Emergency c-section
  • Prolapsed cord
  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Premature birth
  • Infant in NICU
  • Forceps/vacuum extraction
  • Severe pre-eclampsia
  • 3rd or 4th degree tearing
  • Hyperemesis Gravidarum
  • Traumatic vaginal birth

What are the risk factors for Postpartum PTSD?

The main risk factors for postpartum PTSD include:

  • Neonatal complications
  • Lower gestational age
  • Greater length of stay in NICU
  • Stillbirth
  • A previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse

What are the symptoms of Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
  • Panic attacks (episodes of extreme anxiety)
  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event (flashbacks and flooding)
  • Distressing memories, thoughts, feelings or external reminders of the event
  • Spontaneous memories of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent dreams or nightmares
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others
  • Persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance)
  • Avoidance of triggers
  • Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment

What is the treatment for Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Treatment plans will vary for each woman, but can include any or all of the following:

  • Therapy (including psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and group therapy). This helps the woman re-process the traumatic experience, understand her reaction to it, and reframe the experience in a better light.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), a type of therapy that involves using the woman's eye movement to decrease the intensity of the emotions related to a traumatic event.
  • Medication
  • Hypnosis, acupuncture, or other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies

Who can help diagnose/treat Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
  • Mental Health Practitioner