Welcome to the first post of our pre and postnatal mental wellness series. This will be a series of posts dedicated to topics on mental health and well being while pregnant and parenting. Each post will include evidence based resources, general information and above all support, so you can make well informed decisions about supporting yourself or someone else who may be suffering
Birth related post traumatic Stress disorder (also known as postpartum PTSD) is not a well known or highly recognized mental health issue, which is why I chose this topic as the first blog in our mental health series. As a birth and postpartum doula I am wel aware of the effects that trauma can play on pregnancy birth and parenting.
Birth related PTSD is just one part of a much bigger picture of trauma, and mental health related to parenting
Birth Related PTSD is a serious mental health issue. According to PATCH (Prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth) It is described as:
” A birth is said to be traumatic when the individual (mother, father, or other witness (8)) believes the mother’s or her baby’s life was in danger, or that a serious threat to the mother’s or her baby’s physical or emotional integrity existed.”
The prevalence of birth related PTSD is hard to nail down in statistics, as quantitative numbers are difficult to record when talking about an experience. Estimates have claimed that as many as 30% of birthing people describe their births as traumatic and it is said that about 9% will meet the criteria for PTSD
Risk Factors for Birth Related PTSD include:
A History of Trauma
A History of mental illness
Low social support
and of course, a traumatic birth experience
Signs and symptoms of birth related PTSD include
Intrusive thoughts about or reexperiencing the event: this could look like intrusive thoughts about the birth itself, it could also mean obsessive thoughts about your baby’s safety and more depending on individual circumstance. Birth related PTSD doesn’t not look the exactly the same.
Flashbacks or nightmares: This could mean having nightmares or flashbacks about the birth that bring back emotional distress or even physical sensations.
Avoidance: Avoidance behaviors could include avoiding your own thoughts and feelings about the birth, and avoiding other stimuli such as your care provider, hospital settings, or other places objects and people that remind you of a traumatic event.
Hyper arousal: this may result in an inability to sleep or rest as the postpartum person may be on ‘high alert’.
Anxiety: This may look like extreme fear for the baby’s safety, or general anxiety (social anxiety, avoiding going out)
Detachment: Detachment can look like detachment from others or oneself. This could mean withdrawing from relationships, or even experiencing symptoms of depression
If you or someone you know has had a baby recently and is exhibiting these signs it’s important to get help from your care provider right away. If contacting your care provider is difficult, you have a few other options. You can go to a different care provider such as a family doctor, or a walk in clinic. If entering these settings is daunting, gather support from a friend, a relative, or other support persons such as a doula.
It is totally understandable that placing your trust in system that has caused you harm (whether intentionally or not) is hard. It’s important to give yourself some compassion if you are experiencing getting help as difficult. When you know that you are already fragile, it’s hard to trust your own reaction to situations that don’t seem safe.
Fears can compound the difficulty people face in asking for help, a common fear among parents suffering from mental health issues is that if they reach out for help they will lose their children. This is a fear that plays on our confidence as parents and even guilt for being sick in the first place. If you share this fear, you are not alone.
A a doula, I always recommend that anyone suffering from birth related PTSD seek the appropriate professional help. However, I also understand that some situations might make that difficult to do right away, or that the person suffering may be on a waiting list for an appointment, or have a long time in between appointments.
If you find yourself stuck and needing some strategies on how to cope in the meantime, here are some additional options to try:
- Exercise: If you can take your baby out for a quick walk everyday, or find a way to exercise at home. Vigorous exercise can help with feelings of anxiety or depression
- Healthy eating: Taking care of your emotional state is a lot easier when your blood sugar is stable
- Gather support from friends, family whenever you can
- Connect with others who are going through similar experiences
- Sleep: Sleep is restorative for the brain and crucial for your mental health
If you know someone who is suffering from Birth related PTSD, or you know someone who describes their experience as traumatic, here are some ideas on how you can support them
- Encourage them to take care of themselves (walking, healthy food, finding help etc) load the dishwasher for them, take out the garbage, hold the baby so they can nap etc
- Make time to just be with them, listen to their story and empathize with them https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw&w=560&h=315%5D
- Find time to visit, or support them. When you are around, wash the dishes, change the baby, hold the baby so mom can shower, cook, eat etc) take older siblings out
- Familiarized yourself with birth related PTSD, know the symptoms and the effects of trauma thoroughly
- Take care of yourself, make sure you find time for you as well
Tips for support people:
- Know how to recognize the makings of trauma. Empathy and understanding in the moment is important for stopping or at least lessening the impact of a traumatic event
- Learn the skill of empathy, I say skill because it really does take a great deal of effort to stop yourself from wanting to jump in and ‘fix’ things or ‘educate’ people. There is a reason we have therapists, and that’s because empathy and understanding are valuable tools in helping someone heal.
If you are suffering from PTSD and you are reading this blog right now, I would like you to know that it’s common for people to blame themselves for developing PTSD. It’s tricky when your mental wellness is threatened by an event outside of your control and it often leaves people ruminating on what they could have done to change the outcome. Blaming yourself can become a painful way of regaining some control. If you are stuck, and blaming yourself, I encourage you to remember that you are only human and there was likely no way you could have predicted the outcome. What you are going through right now is a natural reaction to a traumatic event, and you can heal. After post traumatic stress disorder comes post traumatic growth.
This is a topic I hope to revisit again and again on this blog, because dialogue about birth trauma and birth related PTSD is sorely needed.
If there is a mental health topic you would like to see on the blog please make sure to comment below.
If you wish to share your story with us we are coming out with a birth stories series in the fall. Click here for more information
Local resources for London and Ontario
Birth Trauma Ontario facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/birthtraumaontario/
The MAMA project https://www.facebook.com/theMAMAprojectcanada/